It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we’ll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I’ll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There’s no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we’re thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they’ve been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there’s something new at the table. I think as you get older this idea of traditions changing can become more noticeable. And with two grown sisters, it’s inevitable that the holidays are going to start looking different sooner rather than later. This year we have a new addition, and my sister Rachael is actually doing all of the cooking while my mom has a much-deserved break. A few family friends will join us for the first time, and Zoe and I are scheming up a very un-Thanksgiving like dessert. Newness abounds. But there are old, important traditions, too. The way my mom and Cathy talk early in the morning about how long to leave the turkey in (after 30 some-odd years of doing it on their own, I’m certain they know, but it wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving morning without the obligatory check-in), the Thanksgiving cocktail (thank you, Zoe), three onion casserole for Stefan, and the evening walk with the dogs after dinner.
It’s always kind of a chaotic, haphazard walk that begins with everyone lumbering around the house locating jackets and scarves and basketballs they may wish to bounce along the way. Dogs are leashed, dogs bark, and there’s inevitably someone who — right around this point–drops out of the walk and volunteers to do the dishes instead. On these walks I’ll sometimes turn around and look back and see “cousins” Kelsey and Elliot who have grown up before my eyes, the dogs who have slowly aged throughout the years, and the usually constant but little-bit-rotating crew of dinner guests — everyone’s shadows in the night. Well-fed, together: That brings the happy.
I recently discovered a sweet blog, Remedial Eating. In talking about her family’s Halloween this year, blog writer Molly Hays said, “And that’s when I remembered the important thing about traditions, that they’re only as good as the happy they bring. And sometimes that looks like repeating what was. And sometimes that looks like forgetting all that.” Both are important: remembering what was and keeping it if it works, but not being afraid to ditch it if it doesn’t. And welcoming the new with anticipation. This year there will be familiar happy and new happy, and I couldn’t be happier about both.
An appropriate recipe to share with you today is a pie. It’s part traditional and part completely new and innovative. I first saw it while flipping through the pages of Food and Wine while house-sitting for my mom a few weeks back, and knew it needed to happen. At its core, it’s a simple custard pie infused with apple cider, cloaked in a layer of lightly-spiced whipped cream and thin slices of baked apples. If you’re looking for a new Thanksgiving dessert, this could be a contender. If you’re set on a traditional apple pie, I might urge you to give this one a spin. You never know when a new tradition could be born.
The pâte brisée recipe yields enough for 2 9-inch pies, so you can go ahead and freeze the second disk for future use. Without the whipped cream, the pie will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. Once you put it all together it’s really best the day of although the second day is o.k., too.
Adapted from: Food and Wine
Prepare the pie shell: Scatter flour across your work surface and roll out the dough to roughly an 11-inch round (don’t stress too much to get it exact). Lay it into a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate and trim any overhand that exceeds 1 inch from the rim. Fold under and crimp. Chill in the refrigerator until quite firm, about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425°. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with dried beans to weigh down the shell when baking. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the crust is barely set. Remove the parchment and pie weights and cover the edge of the crust with strips of aluminum foil. Bake for about 15 minutes longer, until the crust is just set but not browned. If it starts to puff up, prick a few holes in it with a fork to release the air. Lower the oven temperature to 350°.
Make the custard filling: while the crust is cooking: In a medium saucepan, boil the cider until it’s reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Whisk in 3/4 cup of the sugar, the sour cream, nutmeg and salt, then whisk in the eggs. Remove the foil strips momentarily, pour the custard into the pie shell, and replace the foil strips.
Bake the pie for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custard is set around the edge but the center is slightly jiggly. Let the pie cool completely.
Prepare the decorative apple slices: While the oven is still hot, slice the red apple very, very thinly. Use a mandolin or work slowly and carefully with a sharp knife. You don’t want your slices to be too thin so as to be transparent, but close. Spray your baking sheet with non-stick spray or very lightly brush the slices with vegetable oil. Bake them until the edges start to curl up and they start to turn golden, roughly 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and the cinnamon until firmly whipped. Spread gently on top of the pie, cut into wedges, adorn with baked apples and a dash of cinnamon on top, and serve. If you’re not serving right away, refrigerate until you are. If there’s pie leftover, refrigerate — it will be great the next day, too.
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.