Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pumpkin Pie

The first pie that I learned to make is one of my favorite: good old pumpkin pie. I don't make it as much as I would enjoy, since a certain unnamed person for whom I do most of my cooking doesn't like pumpkin. But come Thanksgiving, Pumpkin Pie is a Rykoff family tradition, and sorry unnamed person, but if I only make one pie it will be pumpkin.

I've refined the recipe over the years, improving my crust technique (I used to -- gasp -- use store-bought crust), and tweaking the filling. The basis of my filling recipe is my grandmother's famous pumpkin pie. One of the last years that my grandmother made pumpkin pie somebody was helping her, but they were flummoxed because she couldn't find the famous pumpkin pie recipe. It turned out it was on the back of the Libby's can of pumpkin.

The most recent iteration, which I record here for posterity, is a pair of hybrid recipes. The crust has the basis in a Cook's Illustrated recipe (but with all butter -- I'm morally opposed to shortening, and also we don't eat pork, so no lard), but with the clever rolling method from Alton Brown. The filling merges Libby's recipe (with a fresh pumpkin!) with an old New York Times recipe. Although you can substitute a can of pumpkin (not "pumpkin pie filling") if you wish.

Crust for Single-Crust Pie (Updated!)

based on Baking Illustrated "blind-baked" pie-crust.  The best!

Makes 1 9-inch pie crust

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
7 Tbs unsalted butter (see below)
2-3 Tbs cold water
2-3 Tbs cold vodka

Equipment:
Food processor
Rolling pin
2+ gallon "jumbo" ziploc-style bag
2 pie tins
1 cookie sheet
3 cups dry beans or pennies for pie weights

Chop butter into small pieces, put in a small bowl, cover and put in freezer to chill it for a few minutes (at least). Mix together 3/4 cup, salt, and sugar in a food processor (reserving 1/2 cup). Add butter and process continuously for about 10 seconds, until mixture resembles cottage cheese. Put in remaining 1/2 cup flour and mix with 4-6 quick pulses until incorporated.

Mix vodka and water together. Move flour/butter mixture to a medium bowl. Sprinkle 4 Tbs mixture with flour and use a rubber spatula to incorporate. If the dough is not sticking together (this depends on humidity, altitude, etc) add more vodka/water mixture. The vodka is used because the alcohol will evaporate in the oven, allowing a wetter dough to be mixed that won't end up with a tough and chewy crust. When the dough sticks together, form into a 5" disk and place in the jumbo ziploc bag. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, as much as 2 days.

Put oven rack on lower-middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place two pie tins and cookie sheet in freezer. Remove dough from freezer and put on a large table. Roll out the dough inside the bag. This helps keep everything together. You'll have to unstick the dough from inside the bag every several rolls. When the dough is rolled out (enough for a tin plus 1" + margin), remove pie tins and cookie sheet from freezer. Put the bag with dough on the frozen cookie sheet. This ensures that the crust stays nice and cold. Cut off the top half of the bag. Put one of the pie tins right side up on the dough. Flip dough and pie tin over, so that you have the dough draped over the back of the tin. Peel off the rest of the plastic bag, and put the second pie tin on the first and press dough into place. Flip over and remove outer pie tin. Tamp down bottom circle of crust. Trim overhang to within 1/2 inch, fold under edge and make a nice fluted edge (this part I'm not very good at).

The next part really helps.  Refrigerate dough-lined plate 30-40 minutes, and then freeze for about 20 minutes.  The first refrigeration helps relax the gluten and minimizes shrinkage during baking; the second freezing improves the flakiness due to the different melting points of the flour and butter.

Put two layers of aluminum foil in crust and weight down with dry beans or pennies.  Put in oven and bake until light in color, 25-30 minutes.  Carefully remove the foil and bake for a further 5 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie with Fresh Pumpkin

Makes 1 9-inch pie

1 pie-appropriate pumpkin
3/8 cup (3.5 ounce) white sugar
3/8 cup (3.5 ounce) packed light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh grated ginger or 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
5/8 cup whole milk
5/8 cup half-and-half

Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take 1 medium sugar pie pumpkin or winter luxury pumpkin or french roasting pumpkin or (as I do) whatever they recommend at your favorite pumpkin-monger at the farmers' market. Cut in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. This is a bit of a pain, and may require a paring knife as well as a spoon. However, getting out the stringy bits makes a much better pie! Line baking sheet with foil and place two halves of pumpkin pumpkin-side down. Bake for 1-1.5 hours until domes noticeably soften, but before things start getting very brown. Scoop out pumpkiny goodness from the shell into a bowl, and mash with a spoon. It may be fairly wet, so put the mashed pumpkin in a sieve to drain excess liquid. (I usually do this before I start the crust). (It is, of course, possible to skip this whole thing and use 1 can of pumpkin). Update: To effectively get the excess liquid out of the pumpkin, Christopher Kimball recommends lining a baking sheet with 3 sheets of paper towels, spreading the pumpkin, and then covering again with 3 more sheets. With some light pressing the paper towels will get saturated, and you end up with a nice sheet of perfectly textured pumpkinny goodness.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in a small bowl and whisk to mix. Beat eggs in medium bowl. Add sugar mix and whisk together. Wait a few minutes and whisk again (to ensure that sugar dissolves completely). Whisk in mashed pumpkin. Update: If the mix is too lumpy at this point (when using fresh pumpkin) this mixture can be pulsed a few times in a food processor before continuing.  Slowly add milk/half-and-half mixture and whisk to mix completely. Add filling and put in oven. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 F. Bake for an additional 30-40 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.



Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ultimate Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

A couple of weeks ago, Becky said "I'd like some oatmeal raisin cookies". And seeing as I can't feed Sam directly, I do my best to oblige her requests. Of course, I looked for a Cook's Illustrated recipe first. And I found this online, which purported to be the Cook's Illustrated recipe from 1997. (I'm not actually going to pay to get through their paywall, am I?) The cookies were good, but there were a few problems. Not enough salt. Baking two trays at once led to severely uneven cooking. And the flavor just didn't have enough punch.

Then I thought...what if I use the methods from their fantastic chocolate chip cookie recipe (adapted here). The goal there was to make big, chewy, flavorful cookies. Isn't that what we want in an oatmeal raisin cookie? I think it is! So I put the two recipes together, made a few fixes, and here we are. (The coarse kosher salt gives a nice complexity to the cookies.)  Becky agrees I can call these the Ultimate Oatmeal Raisin Cookies*.

Ultimate Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Makes 18 Cookies

Ingredients:
16 Tbs (1 cup) butter
3/4 cup (5.5 oz) granulated sugar
1 cup (7.0 oz) light brown sugar [updated]
1 1/2 cup (7.5 oz) all-purpose flour
2 eggs
3/4 tsp coarse kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 cup (8 oz) rolled oats
1 1/2 cup raisins*

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk flour, baking powder, kosher salt, and nutmeg together. Heat 12 Tbs butter in a wide saute pan until melted (a couple of minutes), and continue to cook until brown (a few more minutes). Remove from heat, and add to remaining 4 Tbs butter in a big mixing bowl to melt. Whisk sugars and butter in mixing bowl. Add eggs and whisk until sugar lumps are gone, about 30 seconds. Let stand 3 minutes, and whisk again for 30 seconds. Repeat stand/whisk process 2 more times. (This ensures that the sugar is fully dissolved and the cookies will develop a richer caramelized flavor.) Using spatula, stir in flour mixture until incorporated (but try not to over-mix). Stir in oats until incorporated, and finally stir in raisins.

Split dough into 18 big cookies. Put 9 on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake 22-25 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. For most consistent results, bake only 1 batch at a time. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool, and leave for at least 30 minutes to set.

*I like raisiny cookies, but apparently Becky thinks that 1 1/2 cups of raisins is too many. Becky is CRAZY. (However, Becky strongly recommends using golden raisins in the recipe, which sweetens things up just a tad.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Apple Muffins

While she was pregnant, Becky needed lots of continuous food input. And it doesn't seem to be slowing down now that she's breastfeeding Sam. So I made lots of quick snack foods, including dozens and dozens of muffins. I adapted this apple muffin recipe from Alton Brown's basic muffin technique. They're apple-y and tasty and aren't too sweet. These are muffins, not cupcakes! Note that the cinnamon levels given are not very high...Becky is sensitive to cinnamon, so if you want them more cinnamon-y then you probably should add more cinnamon!

Apple Muffins

Makes 12 muffins.

Ingredients:
4 small apples (1 3/4-ish pounds)
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 tsp lemon zest
303 g (11 oz) (2 1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
105 g (3 3/4 oz) (1/2 cup) sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Two of the apples are going to be used to make applesauce. Peel and chop coarsely. Put in small saucepan with 1/4 cup water, the cinnamon stick, and the lemon zest. Bring to boil, cover, and let simmer on low for 15-20 minutes until apples are soft and can be mushed into applesauce. This should yield ~ 1/2 cup.

The other two apples should be peeled and brunoised (small dice) yielding about 1 1/2 cups.

Put the dry ingredients -- flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt -- in a mixing bowl and whisk together to aerate. Alternatively, you can use a sifter, but whisking does the job just as well and is a lot easier to clean than a sifter!

Put the wet ingredients -- sugar, vegetable oil, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup applesauce -- in a second bowl. If you are short on applesauce, add a bit more yogurt so that yogurt + applesauce = 1 cup. Whisk together until fully incorporated.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix with a spatula until the flour is mostly dissolved. Try to be gentle and not overmix! Add in the 1 1/2 cups of apple bits and fold together. All the flour should be incorporated at this point.

Prepare a muffin tin by spraying with your favorite canola-oil based cooking spray. Spoon 12 roughly equal portions of batter into the muffin tin. They should all be approximately full. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean, turning the pan halfway. Immediately transfer muffins to drying rack when done.

Variation: Lemon-Poppyseed Muffins

Substitute 1 cup yoghurt for 1/2 cup yoghurt and 1/2 cup applesauce.
Add 2 Tbs lemon juice and 1 tsp lemon zest (from 1-2 lemons depending on their size) to the wet ingredients.
Add 2 Tbs poppyseeds instead of the apple bits.
And you probably don't want the cinnamon.