Monthly Archives: January 2012

don’t fear the crust – how to make a perfect {sour cherry amaretto} pie

TDHH has been dropping frequent and increasingly less subtle hints lately that he would like a cherry pie.  his request is due in part to the fact that we’ve been re-watching ‘twin peaks’.  episode after episode, we are subjected to special agent dale cooper’s adoration and enjoyment of slice after slice of gorgeous cherry pie (yum to both the pie and special agent cooper).

so today i am straying (again) from my original pledge to share gift-able items, but i think i can get off on a technicality by stretching the definition a little bit to include home-made things that people like to receive.  and home-made pie is surely one of those things.  my IDS* feels there is no excuse for buying pie crust and pie filling, and i tend to agree, not because i’m a snob, but because i get so much pleasure out of baking a pie that i cannot bring myself to buy one.  sure, baking from scratch takes longer, but the effort more than pays for itself in taste and appearance.

a good pie is something of an enigma.  it is so simple in its components – there is nothing new-fangled or high-tech about it, but a good pie evades many a baker, and it is the crust that is most often the culprit.  crust intimidates and causes many a capable baker to defer to frozen pie shells.  because TDHH has always been more of a pie man than a cake and cookies man, i’ve had many opportunities to hone my pastry making skills over the years.  there is an art and science  to pastry making to be sure (you can read more about the science part here), and while i have no illusions of being a master pastry chef or food scientist, i’d like to offer my tried and true tips for creating a knock-your-socks-off, home-made work of art.

here is what i’ve learned (the hard way):

1.  use butter.  yes, using shortening will yield the flakiest crust imaginable, but i prefer the flavour of an all-butter crust.  executed correctly, an all-butter crust will be beautifully flaky and tender, lovely and golden, and more delicious than anything made with hydrogenated oils.

2.  cold is key.  butter must be fridge-cold and firm, never ever soft or room-temperature.  your liquid, whether water, milk or buttermilk, must be icy.  that said, i don’t bother with ice-cubes – fridge-cold or tap-cold will do (but let it get as cold as can be).

3.  hands off!  my pastry improved dramatically when i stopped using pastry cutters and hands and started using my stand-mixer.  despite the fact that my hands are usually cold, i would inevitably warm the butter and over-mix everything, yielding a gummy, glutinous gaffe of a crust.  but in my mixer, it’s magic.  mix with the paddle until the butter is mostly incorporated and some small shards remain.  it works equally as well in a food processor, in fact it’s faster, but i have a soft spot for my mighty mixer and prefer it over the food pro for pastry.

4.  for the love of betty crocker, don’t over-mix.  while the mixer is stirring, add the frigid liquid in a slow but steady stream and stop pouring as soon as everything starts to come together.  you may need more or less liquid depending or your altitude (it’s true!).   you want the dough cohesive enough that most of it is clinging to the paddle – think chunks of play-doh.  pull it all together gently with your hands and form it into a disc, resisting the urge to knead, mash or otherwise overwork the dough (you will make two discs if it’s a double crust affair).

5.  chill some more.  wrap your disc in cling-film and chill before you roll it out.  i find 15 or 20 minutes in the fridge is plenty – any longer and the dough becomes too stiff to work with.  likewise, keep the prepared crust in the fridge until it’s ready to be filled and baked.

6.  skip the floured counter.  my mother-in-law rolls her pastry on a clean dish towel.  imagine!  it works like a charm.  no more sticky counters or PITA pastry mats to wash.  use a clean kitchen towel, sprinkle with flour, and roll away.  roll only north-south/east-west and out from the center – does that make sense?  it’s easier to make it round that way.  pick up and turn the dough as you’re rolling – it prevents sticking and you won’t need as much flour.  a french rolling-pin makes the rolling a little easier, but as you can see, it’s not a deal-breaker.

7.  use a glass pie plate.  seriously.  in my baking dark ages, i used those ‘non-stick’ metal pie tins.  too dark.  too inconsistent.  too non-see through.  switching to pyrex has meant no more underbaked crusts.  being able to see the bottom and assess the done-ness is, for me, essential.  and so far i haven’t dropped a hot pie on my face while cautiously holding it above my head to check the bottom.

8.  may i make one more stipulation?  the filling must be home-made.  yes, it’s slightly more time-consuming, but there is something soothing and satisfying about stirring fruit and sugar in a big bowl and tipping it into a waiting pastry shell.

so fear not the home-made pie!  it is so much easier than it looks.  below is my go-to recipe for sour cherry pie.  it is an amalgamation of recipes and experience – guaranteed to satisfy any IDS and special agent that you may encounter (and it is heartily endorsed by TDHH).

*inner domestic snob (introduced here).

•   •   •

sour cherry pie (crust adapted from mark bittman, filling adapted from rebar)
for pastry (makes a double crust):
2 1/4 cups  all-purpose flour
1 tsp  salt (i use about 3/4 tsp)
2 tsp  sugar (i use vanilla sugar – sugar stored with used vanilla beans – mmm)
1 cup  cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6 tbsp ice-cold water (you may need more or less)
•combine flour, salt and sugar in stand mixer (he uses a food processor).  add the butter and stir with mixer until blended  and the mixture resembles cornmeal with some small lumps of butter.
with the mixer stirring, drizzle in the water and stop pouring when the dough starts to form around the paddle.  remove to some cling-film, gather together into 2 equal discs, wrap in the cling and chill for 15 – 30 minutes.
•when ready to fill, roll out one disc to 1/4″ thickness on a clean, floured dish towel.  transfer to glass pie plate by draping the dough over your rolling-pin.  store in fridge while preparing lattice top.  roll out second disc as above and cut into strips.  place strips across top of filled pie, weaving as you go.
for cherry amaretto filling:
2 x 796mL jars  pitted sour cherries (double-check that all pits were removed by rolling between fingertips)
1/2 cup  granulated sugar
1/4 cup  cornstarch
1 tbsp  amaretto (optional, but so good)
1/2-1 tsp  pure almond extract
1 tbsp milk
1-2 tbsp   turbinado sugar for topping
•combine all ingredients except milk and turbinado in a large bowl, making sure there are no lumps of cornstarch.  pour into chilled pie crust, top with lattice, brush with milk and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.
bake at 450°f for 10 minutes, then decrease to 350°f and bake for another 40-50 minutes (mine usually needs longer), until filling is bubbly and thickened and bottom crust appears golden.  cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.


Filed under baking

baby, it’s cowl’d outside

winter has finally arrived in southern ontario!  it’s cold!  it’s snowy!  it’s sunny, too!  my overuse of exclamations is intentional – for i am a winterchild.  please allow me a moment to wax about my love of winter, which will be followed by a wintry crochet project, befitting the stirandstitchness of this blog.

becoming a winterchild has been an evolution (i know, becoming anything is an evolution).  winter in alberta was a dream for a country kid.  bolstered with layers of insulation and mitts on strings, we’d build snow forts, create mythical villages beneath snow-laden willows and skate and skate and skate on frozen sloughs.  i can see the heart-warming montage right now, can you?  the novelty wore off, as it does, with age.  frozen cars, dodgy driving conditions and fashion victimization left us cold, bitter and counting the days until summer.  this general ‘nonplussed with winter’ sentiment stayed with me until i spent a few years in the northwest territories, well above the arctic circle, where nonplussed turned to dread with a capital d.  add darkness to deep cold and multiply by six months – not for the faint-of-heart.  but here’s the thing: i started to like it.

thriving in remote places with extreme weather requires some effort.  you snowshoe and ski and camp despite the weather.  and when you move ‘down south’, winter becomes easy again and you start adding exclamation points to! every! observation! because! the sun is so magnificent!  the blue sky is so bright!  and being outside without having to worry about your eyeballs freezing is soooo sweet!

thus, the abridged history of my winterchildness is complete.  yes, i’m envying those who are escaping for a week closer to the equator, but i am also appreciating the nesting and creativity that winter does such a good job of evoking for me.  my creation for this chilly weekend?  a cozy crocheted cowl to warm the parts between the toque and the jacket.  i’m coveting a long, drapey, grey cowl, but i wanted to whip one up in an afternoon with leftover wool i had in my stash, so i needed snug and practical, and i think this little number fits the bill nicely (wow, so many commas).  i dig the random stripes and the earthy colours of the british and icelandic wools (two countries that know their way around cold and damp).  i used this pattern as a reference and modified it to my gauge.  now to christen it on a wintry trek with TDHH and the dogs!  exclamation!!!


Filed under crocheting

winter cupboard curry soup

when TDHH*  is away and i’m on my own for supper, i tend to revert back to my vegetarian ways.  you see, TDHH is a meat guy.  he’s the commander of the barbecue and the cook of all meat.  sure, he’s open to meatless meals, but given his way dinner would usually be built around some form of animal protein.  me, i’m an omnivore with vegetarian tendencies.  thus, my solo-supper of choice is usually espinacas con garbanzos (from the amazing deb at smitten kitchen) for three reasons:   1) it is sublimely delicious and relatively healthy, 2) it is just involved enough to feel as if i’m really cooking, but not so tedious that it takes hours to prepare and 3) TDHH dislikes spinach and smoked paprika, both key ingredients.  sadly, i didn’t have the requisite fresh spinach on hand (and i wasn’t inclined for the 1 hour return trip to the grocery store) so i went shopping in my modest basement pantry instead.

being winter in rural ontario, there is no such thing as a real tomato.  oh yes, there are tomatoes that look like tomatoes, but these imposters neither smell nor taste like the real thing.  were i a true homesteader, i’d have a freezer and pantry full of preserved garden-delights, but i’m not there yet.  yet.  anyhow, dinner options were limited to two of my pantry staples: chickpeas and canned tomatoes.  this could be soup, i thought to myself.  yes, inauthentic curry soup, yes.  with spices and coconut milk and chutney.  yes!

the recipe i went to comes from one of my favourite vegetarian cookbooks, rebar modern food cookbook.  if you’ve ever been to their restaurant in victoria, you’ll understand why.  their food is so good and so wholesome that you want to take the chefs home with you.  of course they have the luxury of living in a pacific-northwest pantry with year-round bounty at their doorstep…lucky, lucky folks.  their original recipe calls for fresh tomatoes and whole spices, which aren’t to hand these days, so i tweaked their brilliant recipe somewhat to suit my current kitchen supplies.  the end result is a soup that is so much more than the sum of its parts (despite the fact that it rather resembles baby food in my photo).  it is mellow and warming with a gentle spicy flavour that belies its humble ingredients.  i might add that it is TDHH-approved.

winter cupboard curry soup (adapted from rebar, ready to eat in 45 minutes, serves 4)

4 cups   vegetable stock
1-2 tbsp   vegetable oil
1   small onion, finely diced
1 tsp   salt
1   bay leaf
4   cloves garlic
2 tbsp   minced ginger (i keep fresh ginger in the freezer and grate with a microplane as needed)
1/2   red pepper, roughly chopped
about 4 cups   chopped tomato (canned is fine)
1-2 tsp   cumin (depending on taste)
1-2 tsp   coriander (ditto)
1/2 – 1 tsp   paprika (ditto)
1-2 tsp   garam masala (ditto)
1/4 tsp   coarse ground pepper
1/8 tsp   turmeric
one  540 mL can   chickpeas (rinsed)
1/4 – 1/2 cup   prepared mango chutney (depending on taste)
1/2 can (200 mL)   coconut milk (i think you can get away with low-fat here, which saves 1098230 grams of fat)

fresh cilantro (if you have any in the fridge, to serve)
plain yogurt (to serve)

step one:  heat oil in a large pot on medium heat, add onion, 1/2 tsp salt and bay leaf and saute until the onions are soft and golden.  while onions are cooking, place garlic, ginger, pepper and tomatoes in a food processor and pulse until you have a rough puree (if you don’t have a food processor, you could just mince everything by hand and combine).  set aside for now.

step two:  add all of the spices to the golden onions and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.  add the vegetable puree and the final 1/2 tsp salt (if desired), simmer until small blob of oil appear on the surface (for me, a good 10-15 minutes).  add the chickpeas and stock and bring to a simmer.  cook for several minutes, then stir in the chutney and coconut milk.  using a wand-blender (you know what i mean, right?) or a potato masher, break up most of the chickpeas to help thicken the soup.  simmer gently, then keep warm until ready to serve with some warm naan bread (from the freezer, of course) and fresh cilantro (er, if it’s around).  it’s also nice to drizzle with a little extra coconut milk (if you’re throwing caution to the wind) or stir in some plain yogurt (if you’re very, very good).

*(tall, dark and handsome husband)


Filed under cooking

new year, new bag

being a grey and rainy january 1st, the only sensible thing to do was to remain indoors.  apart from a soggy dog-walk, i happily partook of solely indoor domestic activities today.   i stoked the fire.  i made hearty soup.  i baked some lovely cheddar biscuits.  i let the dogs in and out approximately 157 times. and i sewed!!

new year's bag

just before the holidays, i came across a brilliant pattern for a simple, unstructured, reversible bag.  the pattern is offered on this marvy blog by novita, aka ‘very purple person’.  if you sew and/or appreciate handmade clothing and accessories, you must have a look through her work.  she is enviably talented, has a great sense of style and is generous enough to share some of her patterns and ideas with the whole wide world.  so, back to the bag.  it’s ever so sweet and worked up quite quickly.  the hardest part was deciding which fabrics to use.  i chose a soft grey paisley print for the exterior and a classy neutral print of a map of paris for the interior.  i had a lovely time reminiscing while pressing the fabric…retracing steps i’d taken along the seine and the streets of paris too many years ago…sigh. but i digress!  i decided to add an inner zippered pocket and i must say that i’m pretty chuffed with the results .  i see myself making many more of these in the future.  thank you, novita!

though i hadn’t planned it this way, i kind of like the symbolism of creating a new bag on new year’s day.  maybe i’m getting a little too sentimental this evening, what with the backpacking memories and all, but this bag has that ‘new pencil case/first day of school’ kind of feel to it, you know?  what a nice and nesty way to start the new year.  cheers!

fat stack of potential


zipper pride

interior & pocket

ah, paris

c'est fini!


Filed under sewing