I have a confession. I’m reading Twilight. It’s ironic in a lot of ways. When I was teaching, my students were always dying to get me to read it. Nah, too busy kids. Translation: SO below me. But I’ve been sneaking around, reading it deliberately face down in public places and keeping it on the DL when talking to friends. I know it’s silly. I shouldn’t be ashamed. But for someone who has an advanced degree in English literature and is generally a little snobby about their reading material… it’s a new thing for me. And you know what? It’s amazing.
I can’t remember the last time I read something for no other purpose than to escape. Obviously I read for information or for a nice story/plot, but more often than not, I read to admire the craft of an author. So as I’m still struggling to find a full-time job and getting a little more antsy with each passing day, I’ve also decided to try and be gentle with myself. It’s cool. Watch Mad Men in the middle of the day. Why not? Someday (hopefully soon) I’ll look back on this day and marvel that I had the time to do such a thing. And in that vein, I’ve decided to loosen up the reading reigns and have at a little trash. Why not? Got something better to do? So I’m unstoppable now. As any Twilight reader will tell you, these books are rather addicting. No they’re not written well…at all. But there’s something appealing about Stephanie Meyer’s quick prose and the way she taps into your long-lost high school psyche.
Yesterday I wanted to whip up a little snack to go with my daily dose of vamp-lit. And I knew exactly what it would be: I bought this sweet little apple pie mold at Williams Sonoma and had been waiting for just the right time to make these individual pockets. It turns out they’re the perfect companion to shameful afternoon reading.
There’s also something charmingly nostalgic about them. Remember those awful filled pies that kids (with the exception of me) got in their lunch boxes? They were filled with lemon or chocolate and were covered in a pie crust–I was always in awe of the kids that got those pies. They seemed mysterious and I figured, for sure, those kids had cooler moms than mine. Now, I’m whipping up my own version without the nuclear-colored fruit and trans-fat filled crust. So whether they bring you back to childhood, convince you to enjoy some shameful reading, or just help you usher in fall–enjoy. And let me know if you have any bad (but oh so good) reading recommendations. I’m on a roll.
Now generally I don’t like to post recipes where you need special equipment. But this is an exception. If you don’t have a hankering to spend $9.99 on your own individual pie mold, no worries. This recipe would still be great for individual apple pies or tarts. The recipe for the crust actually comes from the back of the William Sonoma box, and the recipe for the filling comes from yours truly. Now I usually only use Martha Stewart’s recipe for pate brisee, but I strayed this time and I’m so glad I did. The trick is to get a super crumbly consistency by adding just the right amount of ice water (see center photo below of dough texture).
For Apple Filling
In a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt, and the 2 Tbsp. sugar until combined, about 5 pulses. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 pulses. Add 6 Tbsp. ice water and pulse twice. The dough should hold together when squeezed with your fingers but should not be sticky. If it is crumbly, add more water, 1 tsp. at a time, pulsing twice after each addition (I added 9-10 Tbsp when all was said and done). Divide the dough in half, wrap with plastic, and press each into a disk. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Then when ready to begin assembling, let the dough stand at room temperature for 5 minutes.
On a floured surface, roll out 1 dough disk into a round 1/16 to 1/8 inch (2 to 3mm) thick. Brush off the excess flour. Using the Pocket Pie Mold, cut out 8 of each shape. Reroll dough scraps if necessary and cut out more shapes. Repeat with remaining dough disk.
Place a solid dough shape in the bottom half of the cutter and gently press the dough into the mold. Fill the center with 1 to 2 Tbsp. pie filling and brush edges of the dough with the egg wash. Top with matching shape. Press the top half of the cutter down to seal and crimp the edges of the pie. Remove the pie from the mold and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. Freeze the pies 20-30 minutes.
To bake: Preheat oven to 400 F. Brush the pies with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is gently bubbling, 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for ten minutes.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.