Thursday, July 20, 2006

ECL vs Pie, Round Two

This pie has been in the making since Monday.

and scene

I tell you a story.

My roommate, who is also an acupunk, has a patient who bought a fabulous house a year ago. This fabulous house sits near the top of Mt Scott, has a commanding view of the Portland metro area, and used to belong to some fruit-obsessed people. There is a small vineyard along the south end of the yard, a super cool vine of concord grapes growing along the west facing deck, and a long row of very happy, very abundant blueberry bushes. I mean, abundant.

So abundant that this client can go out and pick close to a gallon of blueberries off of one or two bushes. There are about twelve blueberry bushes.

She has been inviting everybody she can think of to help her out and pick blueberries. And so Monday around noon, my roommate and I ambled out of the house and off we went.

There were several different varieties of blueberries: tart little ones, big fat juicy ones that tasted like grape pez, and little tiny super sweet ones. I didn't care about separating the varieties; I just started pickin'. I think my favorite were the pez flavored ones.

There is something just so satisfying about harvesting these ripe, round, full, juicy, plump, blue, happy little berries. Something in me sighed a deep sigh and let go.


When I get happy I get chatty, and so I chatted away with the blueberry bushes, admiring how well they produced, complementing how round and juicy and blue their berries were, thanking them for letting me take some of their fruit. It was a most excellent way to spend a Monday.

My roommate filled three of those big tubs you get from New Season's (you know, not the pint size tubs, the ones that holds about 2 lbs of ground meat) , I filled a gallon ice cream tub and another one of those tubs.

I decided it was time to try another pie.

Pie dough, part one:
Again, I bitch about RLB's cryptic pie dough making instructions. For an author who spends as much time as she does perfecting recipes and figuring out how to make them foolproof, I just don't get what she's trying to instruct me to do when it comes to her flaky pie crust. But, the dough came together, and seemed to be a little bit better than my first try, so I flattened it into a disk and wrapped it up and shoved it in the refrigerator.

Filling, part one:
I decided to make the open faced fresh blueberry pie because it calls for less sugar, and you really only cook down 1/4 of the berries and you don't have to roll out two pie crusts. I also decided to make the white chocolate ganache (basically white choc whipped cream) to go with it. So, off to the store I went.

...And detoured into the mall where I made a return and purchased a few lacy underthings.

Pie dough, part two:
When I returned home with all of my purchases (food and lacy things alike) I set to rolling out the dough into a huge circle. I looked for my pie plate, and I looked again. And I looked again. Huh. Where in the hoohah is my pie plate? I'm still looking for it.

Seriously. I'm still looking for it.

This set me back a bit, but I decided I could use my cast-iron skillet as a pie plate, and so the rolling of the dough continued.

Rolling out dough with a vinegar bottle has lost its fun.

the rolling pin

After a bit the dough started to get too warm so I shoved it back into the refrigerator, and got called away to a birth.

I don't think I did much about the pie situation because I had a super busy day. I don't know how I got through it all. But I did. I think this is the day I bought, out of desperation, a pie plate from the QFC on my way home from work.

Decided to finish the pie. Noticed the pie plate was a little bigger than the recipe called for, and by golly, I think it might kind of be a deep dish plate too. Oh well. By this point, I didn't care. I just wanted to finish the freaking pie.

Pie dough, part three:
I finished rolling out the dough into what I thought would be a big enough circle. I used the plastic wrap that I was rolling it between to fold it into quarters, noticed the dough was sticky, thought about giving it another rest but decided, no, I'm finishing the freaking pie tonight, and placed the dough in the pie plate. And tried to unfold it nicely, but there was tearing and general noncompliance but eventually I got the dough patched up, in the plate and the edge folded under. Okay. Back in the refrigerator to rest up.

Pie dough, part four:
A couple hours later, I gathered up my courage and blind baked the pie shell. That part seemed to go well enough. After baking and letting it cool for 3 minutes, I brushed the shell with egg white, to form a barrier between the crust and the filling.

ready for the filling

Filling, part two:
I had previously (in Filling, the prequel) separated out one cup of slightly smooshy berries to cook down. Into the pan they went with about 1/2 cup of water and I brought it to a boil. I also prepared a cornstarch slurry, measured out the 1/2 cup of sugar and squeezed a little lemon juice. When the berries almost boiled over, I turned down the heat, stirred constantly, and waited for the juices to thicken.

cooking down the berries

This is where I learned about cornstarch. In all fairness, the book did say to stir constantly, but it didn't say stir constantly when adding the cornstarch or it will congeal in one big clump. Which is kind of what happened. I broke most of it up, the berry stuff thickened up, and I took it off the heat. I added a little more than 3 cups of fresh berries to this and gently folded everything together.

And into the pie shell this berry goodness went.

And off to bed this ECL went.

Brains called to wake me up and made me go to coffee with him. I tell you, I still feel all wonky from Tuesday's birth. We agreed on caffeine and then pie. Finally! Pie time!

White Chocolate Ganache:
In a double boiler I melted my 3 oz of white chocolate with 1/4 cup of cream. This part was fine. As the chocolate/cream mixture cooled, I began to whip up the rest of the cream and got all distracted talking to Brains and cleaning up the table. When I got back to the cream, it had whipped itself up quite thoroughly, a little too thoroughly, and when I added in the chocolate and whipped it up even more, the whipped cream began to break down. Into white chocolate butter and white chocolate buttermilk.

look ma, i churned white chocolate butter!

Oh well.

The pie was pretty damn good. Sweet, but not cloying. I actually would have added less sugar if I was thinking about it because I like things to be on the tart side. The pie crust was flaky, buttery (oh so buttery!) and maybe a little too tender. It didn't really hold itself together too well. But it was Good.

lookit how pretty that pie slice is

The creamy stuff, separated as it was, was really good, too. The creamy tanginess complemented the blueberries well.

As Brains said, when he started in on his second piece, "holy antioxidant pie, Batman!"

I think that pretty much sums it up.

pie, ready for eating

Monday, July 10, 2006

Giving Zetta What She Deserves

It's that time of year again--time to bake a german chocolate cake for Zetta.

german chocolate cake

July 8, 2006
Occasion: Zetta's Birthday!
Name of cake: German Chocolate Gooey Cake
Constituents: two layers dark chocolate cake
filled and frosted with coconut-pecan goop

The cake came together nicely, no big mishaps or whooziwhatsits. Just a few minor incidents that really weren't that big of a deal.

Everyone marveled at how dark and chocolaty the cake was, and I'll tell you now that's because I use Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder. It makes the batter look this sickly dark gray color but results in cakes that are almost black and super tasty.

I powered through the mixing and baking portion of the cake process late the other night which may be my excuse for why I did the following:

As I turned one of the cakes out of the pan to cool, I left it top side down on the baking rack until fully cooled. I didn't think anything of it. Until I tried to wrap the cake up before going to bed, when I realised that not only was the cake thoroughly stuck to the cooling rack, but that it had kind of sunk into the rack. And when I went to try and pry the cake off, it split into a couple of pieces. So I laid the piece of the cake that I had in my hand on the saran wrap, and put the rest of the cake back together as best as I could, wrapped it up, and went to bed.

german chocolate cake
betcha can't tell which cake layer is the one that fell apart!

I didn't throw a tantrum, which was great!

So this coconut-pecan frosting stuff is really fascinating. Every recipe I found online only makes enough to frost one layer. Aren't you supposed to frost both layers with the stuff?
The Goop (enough to frost two 9 inch cake layers)
  • 14 oz (2 cans) sweetened condensed milk
  • 6-7 egg yolks
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 2 cups toasted chopped pecans
  • 2 2/3 cups toasted coconut, preferably unsweetened
  • 2 tsp vanilla
You take the milk, egg yolks, and butter and you are supposed to heat them over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes, until bubbly.

Well let me tell you: when you are heating up something that has egg yolks in it that you don't want to curdle, you probably should warm them up gently. Which means it may take you a bit to get to medium heat. And once there, you may stir for 15 minutes and never see one bubble. You may notice that the goop gets a little thicker, but you may also realise that you've been standing and stirring constantly for at least 30 minutes and not care about bubbles anymore.

At this point, you dump the goopy shit over the chopped, toasted pecans, and the (optionally) toasted coconut, add your vanilla, and let it cool for more than the 15 minutes they suggest before slopping it on the cake.

Ta-da! ECL's first published recipe!
The goop was still goopy when I went to frost the cake, and as I was happily frosting the sides, I noticed that the goop was sloughing off the cake and gooping around the bottom of the plate. Huh.

Instead of getting all in a tizzy, I put the cake in the refrigerator and wandered off for a bit. I think I even took a shower.

german chocolate cake
bowl of goop in the background

After a while, I took the cake out and began to fix the goop, which at that point readily agreed to stick to the cake without much fuss. Off I drove, Zetta's German Goopy Cake enjoying the air-conditioned ride over to her house, and when I arrived I received a warm welcome, so nice! But in afterthought, I think the happy reception was for the cake itself, as the cake's arrival was announced but not necessarily mine...

I must say, I was still in recovery from Tuesday's Popsicle Party that I couldn't even finish my slice of cake. But I did finish the homemade hazelnut gelato that came with it (thanks Thursday) and I did eat 1.5 pieces of EvilPieLady's tomato-frickin-yum-tart.

evilpielady's tomato-frickin-yum-tart

Damn good foodin' wit' ya'll, and a happy happy birthday to the lovely Zetta.

Monday, July 03, 2006

ECL vs Pie

I don't know how many of you remember, but one of my baking resolutions for this year was to stop being afraid of pie crusts. Every now and then throughout the first half of this year I would remind myself that those terribly scary pie crusts were out there lurking, threatening to haunt me when I sleep and steal my precious jewels, and that I, evil cake lady, had resolved to conquer my fear once and for all.

And so, my inability to eat most summer fruit raw--even though I would LOVE to--led me to the desperate place today that hereafter will be known as: The Day ECL And Pie Crust Met.

(Why can't I eat most summer fruit raw you ask? Well, a nice juicy peach, or a bright red cherry, or even too many handfuls of blueberries, makes my tongue feel all burnt and numb and my throat all itchy. Not So Good. But I can eat any of them once they are cooked and yummy!)

In the past I have tried to get excited about pie crust, but after getting intimidated by the 200 tips and tricks and helpful hints and recipes and whatnot in RLB's The Pie and Pastry Bible I would close the book and bake a cake instead.

But today, my resolve held firm and I decided to try.

Following RLB's instructions for making a Flaky Pie Crust was a little confusing. Sorry RLB, this book could have been better organized, and in some places, better written. I'm not saying, but I'm saying.

I used my roommate's food processor to get the dough all put together and at first I was really concerned about it as it wasn't very elastic. A tug on the dough to see if it would stretch would pull a chunk off instead. But, I powered on, letting the dough rest up in the refrigerator while I attended to the peaches.

Peaches, Macerating

I didn't have enough peaches for a full 9 inch pie, so I decided to make little peach turnovers using pie dough instead of puff pastry. Like little fruit empanadas.

At about this point in the pie process I realised I didn't own a rolling pin, and neither did my roommate. So I looked around our cupboards to see if there was anything suitable (living in Ukraine taught me to be creative--we used the bottom of a wine bottle to mash potatoes one night) and I found a great vinegar bottle. Perfect!

So out I rolled my first little pie crust, which warmed up really fast and the butter flakes in the dough softened up quite a bit, and the dough was sticky, and I put too much filling in and it leaked out as I was pinching the edges shut and ack!

So I put the rest of the dough back in the refrigerator, the first turnover in the freezer, and watched a movie with my roommate.

About three hours later, I decided to get back to that dang dough, and as it was much cooler in the kitchen I had high hopes of completeing the task. By the fourth turnover I think I had the rolling thing down. And I stopped overfilling the pies which made a huge difference. Also, that three hour rest in the refrigerator really made the dough a much more cooperative thing.

Which has led me to think I might be like Flaky Pie Crust: too long in the heat and I get all uncooperative too.

By the time I got all the turnovers turned over it was 2:30 am (I like the night what can I say). I decided to keep all the little turnovers in the freezer until tomorrow when I can bake them up in the morning and hopefully enjoy them for breakfast.

So goodnight to thee. I'll let you know how tomorrow turns out. (Or over--haha, that makes me the exceptionally clever lady doesn't it?)

(07/03) Tomorrow:

Well I took the little frozen peach turnovers out of the freezer, made three slashes on the tops of each, painted on some egg white and sprinkled with milled cane sugar, preheated the oven and popped the little guys in there. About 30 minutes later, I pulled out these little golden turnovers, many of which had spooged filling and even developed more cracks and holes than the slashes I had allowed them.

Look!  I Made Turnovers!

But, wow, the crust was actually pretty good! I would add a little more salt next time, but all in all, the crust is tender, flaky, and tasty. Not too bad for the First Pie Crust Ever Made By The ECL.

So now I don't feel like pie crust is the enemy anymore. In fact, its not even that I won the battle of ECL vs Pie, its more that we have come to a tenuous understanding, and hopefully with a little cultivation and patience me and Pie will have a long and co-creative relationship.

Which is good news for all of you.