Monday, November 23, 2009

The Perfect Pie Dough - Pate Brisee

I have been making pies since the eighth grade - and the most challenging part has always been getting the dough to be the right consistency. I remember my first pie was a complete mess. Once I rolled out the dough and tried to place it in the pan, I ended up having to patch the numerous holes and tears I had created. Over ten years later (whoa!), a lot has changed - including improving my pie making skills. There are a few techniques that can help create a flaky and tender pie crust. I thought I would share my tips since Thanksgiving is tomorrow and every pie is better with homemade dough.

Having a food processor can help immensely, but is not necessary. I like using a food processor because it quickens the process and keeps the dough cooler compared to using your hands or a pastry cutter.

Here is my favorite pie dough recipe - a pate brisee by Martha Stewart. This makes enough for one 9 inch deep dish pie or one 9 inch double crusted pie:
-2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
-1 tablespoon sugar
-1 teaspoon salt
-8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
-3 to 4 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

My food processor is small, so I can only hold half the amount of the recipe, which I actually like so I end up making two perfectly equal pie dough disks (one for the top and one for the bottom). If you are bad at math, here is the half recipe:

-1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
-1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-4 ounces (1 stick) of cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
-1 to 2 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

Before I begin anything, I like to measure out my chopped butter and flour mixture (salt, sugar, and flour) and place in the freezer to chill for about 5 minutes. It is very important to keep the butter especially chilled, because the cold temperature is what allows the butter to become flaky bits when processed. While chilling the ingredients, create ice water by added a lot of ice and some water - you want it to be very cold. Once everything is chilled well, you can begin making the dough.
Pulse flour and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter, and process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. Do not process for too long, because the motor heats up the dough.
Now comes the most difficult part of the process. Add your ice water - a little at a time, just a drizzle, then process a bit and see how your dough holds up. You do not want to add too much water, the excess water will create a tougher crust. I usually do not go by actual measurements - there is never an exact amount of water you should add - the amount changes all the time, due to heat and humidity and human error in measuring. Below is an example of too much water, notice how the dough clumps together too easily.

Example of too much water (above).Example of right consistency of dough (crumbly, but holds together).

Once the dough is just holding together, remove the dough from the food processor and place on the counter. Use your hands to form a disk. If the dough isn't sticking together, just sprinkle a few drops of water on your hands and quickly work in. Don't over work the dough, because the heat of your hands will ruin the butter flakes.Now wrap each disk in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days (or freeze for up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator before using).Once you are ready to roll out your dough, let it set out for 10 minutes and then sprinkle flour on the counter and on your rolling pin. Rotate your dough circle twenty degrees, every few rolls to prevent sticking. Sliding a frosting spatula underneath to loosen the dough also works. Once the circle is large enough for your pie plate, place rolling pin on edge of the dough and wrap onto the rolling pin and then transfer into the pie plate. I wish I had pictures, but I sadly don't, so click here for Martha Stewart's visuals and instructions. Hope these tips help, and you will try to make your own crust this Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Aztec "Hot" Chocolate Ice Cream

This is the best ice cream I have ever made (which isn't hard since I have only made a few kinds), but it is also one of the best ice creams I have ever tasted. I found this recipe for Aztec "Hot" Chocolate Ice Cream in David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. What makes this chocolate ice cream special is its complex flavor due to the chile powder, ground cinnamon, and brandy added. Lebovitz suggests using ancho or chipotle chile powder, which you can find at Mexican markets. I found whole dry ancho chiles in Dallas, Texas at a bulk food store called Sprouts Farmers Market, and ended up just grinding a couple up (after removing their stems) in a coffee grinder I rarely use. The coffee grinder create a pretty fine powder, but it was still coarse enough that it created a subtle texture in the ice cream. If you are worried about the strength of your chile powder, add a small amount and let it sit for a while and see if you like it before adding more.

Here are the ingredients for David Lebovitz's Aztec "Hot" Chocolate Ice Cream:
-2 1/4 cups heavy cream
-6 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
-3/4 cup sugar
-3 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
-1 1/4 cups whole milk
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-Pinch of salt
-1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
-2 to 3 teaspoons chile powder
-2 tablespoons brandy

To begin, chop the chocolate and set aside.
Whisk together the cream, cocoa powder, and sugar in a large saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking frequently, until it comes to a full rolling boil. It will start to foam up.
Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate, then whisk until it is competely melted.
Stir in the milk, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, chile powder, and brandy.Pour the mixture into a blender and blend for 30 seconds, until very smooth.
Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to instructions.
Place your ice cream in an air tight container and place plastic wrap on top to reduce freezer burn.

If you get a chance to make ice cream - make this one! It is so satisfying - chocolatey, warm, and hint of brandy all the way through - you will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Afton Apple Orchard

A few weeks ago, I flew to Minneapolis to visit my best friend Lisa. Lisa and I are best friends for a lot of reasons - we just get each other, but Lisa and I also have a passion for food. So the weekend was filled with food related things: pulled-pork tacos at a Canadian Tuxedo party, delicious heuvos racheros and corn bread made by Lisa, Arby's curly fries - yum, homemade apple pie, and dinner at Cafe Twenty-Eight.

Minneapolis is a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) compared to NYC. After staying with Lisa and her boyfriend Jesse's house, it left me wondering is New York City really that great? Yes and no. Lisa and Jesse have a garden which includes: tomatoes, green beans, squash, herbs (rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, dill), cucumbers, brussel sprouts, asparagus, rhubarb, beets, carrots, garlic and watermelon. Simply amazing! They even were growing raspberries until a ground hog ate them. And although I can go to the Green Market, it just isn't the same as growing the vegetables yourself.

On Saturday, Lisa and Jesse took me to the Afton Apple Orchard. I have only gone apple picking once before so I was pretty excited. After a long but lovely ride out to the country, we arrived. The great thing about Afton Apple Orchard is that they have a booth where you can sample every apple and then go out to the orchard and pick the ones you like best. Deciding which apple was superior became a contentious debate between all of us. We all love Honeycrisp, but that wasn't available for picking. Three against one decided that the Honey Gold was the best. I was the odd man out and this is why: the Honey Gold apple had floral notes like that of a pear, and if I wanted a pear I would have just bought one, I want an apple to taste like an apple. My personal favorite was the Regent, but we ended up getting the Honey Gold and a bunch of Haralsons for baking. Click here to see Afton's description of each apple. Here are some pictures of our visit:
Sampling booth.Apple Orchard.
Haralson Apples. Photo taken by Lisa M. Kreidler.
Sneaky apple eating - Very Illegal. Photo taken by Lisa M. Kreidler.The cutest donkey ever!Apple donut dessert.
Apple pie making. Photo taken by A.W.D.
If you live in Minneapolis I definitely recommend stopping by the Afton Apple Orchard, they also have raspberry, blueberries, cherries, peaches, and pumpkins to pick when each are in season. If you don't live in Minneapolis, find an orchard near you - it is a wonderful activity on a dreamy fall day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thanksgiving Invitations

Now that Halloween has passed, and my time is not consumed with creating my costume, I finally sat down last week and created my Thanksgiving invitations. For the past two years, my friends and other New York stragglers (who end up becoming friends) have gotten together and created our own family for the day.

Here are my invitations I designed and sent out yesterday.