Saturday, December 14, 2013

Four and Twenty Black Birds Pie Book

As some of you might know I have a particular sweet spot for pie. So, when my dear friends showed up at my 40th birthday party with the new Pie Book from the famed Brooklyn pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds, well, I was pretty darn happy. Conveniently, this occurred the week just before Thanksgiving, so I thought I'd swap out my favorite pie dough this year and try out theirs, and let's just say I we were not disappointed! It is a very similar recipe, including the vinegar, but theirs has a bit more, and they spoon the ice water in 2 tablespoons at a time. The dough is tender, flaky and delicious. (If you want to check out my other favorite pie dough recipe click here.) What is amazing is that they make all ther dough for their pie shop by hand, including cutting in all the butter! I found that I could cut the butter in with a paddle attachment to my mixer just fine, but adding the water by hand a tablespoon or two at and time works great. 

Here is the link to the Four and Twenty Blackbirds shop: and their new new Pie Book which would make a wonderful gift for any avid or aspiring baker. The step by step instructions and photos are extremely well done. 

Four and Twenty Black Birds All Butter Pie Crust:
Author Notes: This is one of our staple crusts used at the shop. It's also featured in a variety of our pies included in THE FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS PIE BOOK. - ElsenEM
Makes dough for one single-crust 9- to 10-inch pie or tart

  • 1 1/4cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2cup cold water
  • 2tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1/2cup ice
  1. Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl.
  2. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula.
  3. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend).
  4. Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or small bowl.
  5. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated.
  6. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.
  7. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine.
  8. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow.
  9. If making the double-crust version, divide the dough in half before shaping each portion into flat discs.
  10. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.
This Pie Party blog post has some great links to fun pie recipes too. Below is a cherry berry pie based on this cherry pie recipe form Melissa Clark. Mine is a mix of raspberries, blueberries and cherries cooked in a tart pan.  Hope you make some time for delicious pie baking this winter! it's a great excuse to turn the oven on!
And...please share your favorite pie recipes!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Easy Cheesey

I kid you not when I say this is the easiest cheese to make ever! I whipped this up in just a few minutes before my guests arrived, so keep it in mind for a last minute pot luck dish or special addition to a holiday party. The recipe had been hanging on the side of my fridge for nearly 9 months. My son had brought it home from his after school program at Common Ground- urban farm and school (it was written in crayon in huge letters, if that helps you overcome the idea that cheese making has to be hard). This fresh cheese is a type of farmers cheese, soft and un-aged (as in it is only minutes old!).  To make this, all you do is heat milk to 180 degrees, stir in vinegar, pour the curds through a thin clean dish towel, chill and enjoy. That's it!
Easiest Fresh Cheese 
1/2 gallon milk
1/2 cup vinegar

1. Heat milk to 180 degrees F
2. Add vinegar, stir. Milk will curdle and the curds and whey will separate. 
3. Line a colander with a thin clean dish towel and pour the curds and whey in. Let the whey drain off. You can gently squeeze the remaining whey from the curds by twisting the dish towel, or just let it hang for a while. 
4. Separate cheese into two balls and season as you desire with salt, pepper, or any spices or herbs. 

For this party I made two small balls, one surrounded by roasted cherry tomatoes and thyme (the last from my garden a little while back). The other cheese, I seasoned with salt and pepper and smothered with honey. Citrus zest would be a great addition to this cheese as well. For winter when tomatoes are lacking, you could also pair this with chopped spiced nuts like these Orange Pepper Almonds or roasted delicata squash

The only downside to this cheese is that it uses a lot of milk. An entire half gallon of milk only yields two small rounds of cheese...which makes me think deeper about why cheese is so expensive.....

Do you have any homemade cheese recipes? Ideas for fun party appetizers? Please share!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holiday Cookies & Treats

Not being Christian is a small hurdle to overcome when holiday sweets are at stake. I love that Christmas time brings about mass cookie making around the country. Family recipes, regional specialties and old time favorites emerge. Many years ago when I first met my husband we visited his mother's family in upstate NY; tins of cookies filled the house, old Swedish favorites, with lots of butter, nuts and cardamom, and much like my first evening spent in Brazil many years before, where I was handed a bowl of thick dulce de leche caramel and a spoon, my heart was overcome with sweetness and I was in love. 

This year for a holiday party I decided to make my all time favorite cookie, which conveniently happens to be of the Jewish variety, and one I haven't made for years. This recipe for rugelach (the cookie pictured above) comes from the first bakery I worked in in Brooklyn in the mid '90s: Margaret Palca Bakes. We made cookies and cakes in a tiny kitchen and shop on the ground floor of her family brownstone in Carol Gardens. The treats were sold at places like Dean and Delucca, and the rugelach were by far the most buttery, chewiest, most wonderful rugelach I had ever had. Her secret is using powdered sugar in the dough, along with the usual cream cheese. I hope she doesn't mind me posting the recipe here, all these years later!!

I put chocolate in some of these (see below), but I think they were better with only the jelly and nuts for the filling!

adapted from Margaret Palca Bakes
makes 80 cookies

14 tablespoons butter
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 cup Jam or jelly  of your choice (apricot or raspberry are the classics)
1 1/2 cups walnuts or pecans finely chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

  1. Line 3 baking pans with parchment paper or butter very well. Cream butter and cream cheese till very fluffy, add sugar and flour until well combined. 
  2. Split into 5 rounds*, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour, or overnight. Lightly flour one dough round at a time and Roll out between two sheets of wax paper, about 10 or 12 inches in diameter. 
  3. Mix nuts, cinnamon and sugar together. Blend jam in a food processor or melt and cool it to make it easy to brush onto the soft dough. 
  4. Working with one round at a time, brush with a thin layer of jam, and sprinkle with crushed nuts mixture. Cut round into 16 wedges (like a tiny pizza), roll them up from the outside edge inwards and place on baking sheet. 
  5. Bake at 350 till very golden. I didn't time these, but I think about 18 minutes or so... Must cool completely to come off of parchment paper.
* You can make 2 or 3 rounds in a batch and keep the rest in the freezer for later if you like. 

Here are some other great holiday treats from years past:

Cardamom bread - this recipe could be made even more delicious by adding a layer of almond paste to the center before braiding. 

Cocoa Walnut Raw Truffles - a delicious, beautiful and healthy sweet, just nuts, cocoa and dates. Again, you could alter this recipe by adding some spices like cinnamon, clove or cardamom, citrus zest, or by switching the type of nuts for a wide variety of fabulous truffles. 

Honeycomb Candy - an all around amazing sweet. 

Do you have any fabulous cookie recipes or family favorite holiday treats? Please share!!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sufganiyot - Hanukkah Doughnuts

The synchronism of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving this year, was really just a bit too much for me. As much as I love pie and latkes, I don't really need to eat them together, or even in the same weekend. So it is pretty crazy to think that at this very moment on the 6th night of Hanukkah, a Monday evening, only 4 days after Thanksgiving, I am preparing doughnut dough and re-setting my Thanksgiving table for 12. An impromptu party with some of my childhood friends and their kids for a fun Hanukkah night. 

I couldn't really bring myself to make latkes again, and I hadn't made any doughnuts yet (Sufganiyot are the Israeli jelly doughnuts often made on Hanukkah).  I invented this doughnut recipe a few years back by altering a basic challah recipe, which is pretty similar to a yeasted doughnut dough. If I can muster any more energy, I just might thaw some of my summer strawberries and make fresh jam to fill these bad boys.

If you are still in the mood for Latkes this year, here is my recipe.

Happy frying.