Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cherrylicious- Updated!

*****Update- there has been a new and improved cherry pie recipe posted here.*****

I've been dying to make a cherry pie.  Everytime I walk into the supermarket I am greeted with beautiful ruby red Bing cherries, and oooh they are so sweet and tasty, I figure they must make a great pie.  However everytime I google for a good cherry pie recipe, they require tart "pie cherries" which makes it hard to get the sugar proportions right for Bing sweet cherries.  Well this weekend I figured, to hell with proportions, I am going to wing it and make me a cherry pie.  I used this recipe from the Joy of Baking, but modified it a bit.  I reduced the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup since the cherries are the sweet Bing variety.  I also used an egg wash instead of cream to coat the top of the crust for browning.   (I've never tried using milk to coat a pie crust.  It might work as well as egg wash, but I've always used egg wash and if it ain't broke...)  Lastly, I am proud to say I used a frozen pie crust.  More about Trader Joe's later.

I took pictures every step of the way, and alas here is a pictorial:

First we must remove the pits in the cherries.  This held me back for about a year, as the thought of a red splattery mess on my white walls made me run from the cherry section of the produce aisle each and every time I considered this endeavor.  Then one day I came across this beauty:

Bed Bath and Beyond is a dangerous place my blog reading friends.  There are way too many goodies to resist leaving without at least one of them.  This was the result of a stress-inducing day a few months ago, and it definitely was worth every penny.

This cherry pitter can remove the pits of up to four cherries at a time.  There are two sets of four impressions to place cherries, one set for large and one for small cherries.  The pits drop into the bottom of the pitter and you can easily discard them as you remove pits.

There was no blood red splatter on my white walls after all, and no pits to be found in the final product.  Overall this $15 item was all it was hyped up to be and more. 

Once you have all of your cherries sans pits, approx 4 cups, put them in a bowl and add the following:

  • 1/2 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar, or as needed
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons (30 grams) quick cooking tapioca
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kirsch or 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)

Let the cherries sit for approx 15 minutes to let the tapioca dissolve and soften.  Let me digress for a moment and talk a bit about the tapioca vs. corn starch debate.  In my personal experience, I have noticed no difference between the two.  I usually use minute tapioca and I don't pre-grind or anything.  I have read that corn starch doesn't thicken in high acid content foods, so in this case I went with minute tapioca and it worked like a charm, no grittiness and it was perfectly thick.  Do as you see fit in your own pies.

Now for the pie crust.  I use frozen pie crust because Trader Joe's sells an amazingly just-like-homeade frozen crust and I just can't resist the ease of using it.
I leave the pie crusts out on the counter for approximately 2 hours, flipping them over after one hour to make sure they evenly defrost, and the crust is perfect every time.  People often ask me in amazement if I made my own crust and I love sharing with them the fact that it is from Trader Joe's because that store is so amazing that everyone who is lucky enough to have one nearby should go and support them.  Their food standards are supreme and I want them to grow and grow.

Once the crust is defrosted, you must place in a pie dish.  I use a Farberware glass 9 inch pie plate.  It is deep but not hugely so.  I sometimes grease the plate with Pam spray but mostly I forget and curse myself later. 

Gently lay your pie crust over the pie plate and carefully ease it down to form the bottom crust.  It is perfectly fine if the crust cracks and you need to patch it back together, so be easy on yourself!  As you bake more pies, the technique gets easier. 

Once the crust is in place, take poultry shears and trim the excess around the pie plate, leaving about 1/8" hanging off the edge of the plate.  This will be used to seal and flute the edges later.

Now the cherries are ready to be put in the crust.  Pour the cherries in, making sure to distribute as evenly as you can.  I usually like my pies to be jammed full of fruit, so I like my fruit to mount up about an inch higher than the height of the pie plate.

Now place the two tablespoons of unsalted butter, sliced into four pieces, on the top of the cherries.

Now you are ready to place the top crust on the pie.  Take your egg wash (one whole egg, scrambled, and about a tablespoon of cool water mixed in) and brush some around the edge of the pie crust.  This will make the bottom and top crust stick together nicely.

Sealing the pie crusts together
Place the top crust gently on the pie, patching any cracks as needed.  Trim the excess off the side, leaving about an 1/8" again for sealing and fluting.  Gently fold the top excess under the bottom excess, working your way around the entire pie.

Now it's time to make the pie purdy.  To get that rippled effect along the outside edge of the pie, called Fluting, put your index finder on your right hand under the now sealed edge of the crust.  Take the index and thumb of your left hand and gently push down on either side of the crust around your right hand's index finger. This will make the first bump in the fluting pattern.  Go around the entire pie making the distance between flutes as even as you can.  Perfection is overated, so again, enjoy yourself and don't go nuts.

This is what it will look like when finished.  Now take the rest of the egg wash and brush it over the entire pie crust.  I usually only end up using half of the egg wash from one egg.  It isn't necessary to saturate the crust, just a light layer to allow the top to get shiny golden brown.

The Joy of Baking recipe has you use cream but I use egg wash.  Experiment and see which you prefer.  You can shake some granulated sugar over the top at this point if you want that crunchy twist to the pie.  I usually don't like the effect so I omit this step.

It is necessary to vent the steam that will build up as the fruit juices cook and are released inside the pie.  I like to cut six slits in the middle of the pie.  If you are making a lattice top there is no need to cut vents.

 Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Place the pie on a cookie sheet that is lined with parchment paper.  (Note: Don't use tin foil.  In my experience it ends up sticking to the bottom of the pie plate after cooking and makes a mess.  Parchment paper is mess-free.)  The cookie sheet catches any spills the fruit juices might make on the bottom of the oven.

Place either some greased tin foil or some sort of pie crust protector that is greased along the outside edge of the pie crust for the first 30 minutes.  This prevents the pie crust from burning since it cooks faster than the rest of the pie.  I bought a cheap aluminum one at Bed Bath and Beyond, and I spray a bit of Pam on it before placing it on the pie.  It works like a charm.

Place the pie (which is on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet) in the oven and cook at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes.  Then reduce the oven to 350 degrees F and cook for another 35 minutes or until the juices are bubbling through the crust and the crust is golden brown.

Congratulations, you have just made yourself a mighty tasty bing cherry pie!

cherry pie

P.S. The crab cakes were a bust.  I am on a quest to find a good crab cake recipe, but the price of good jumbo lump crab is outrageous so it will take some time to perfect since I need to spread out my trials over months.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Playing with Sugar

I decided to test my artistic abilities at cake decorating.  Here are some of my creations for you to peruse:

This was my very first flower bouquet for a cake. I had taken the first of three cake decorating courses offered by Wilton at various locations (I chose a local Michael's by me), and this was the final project for the class, for which I received a certificate of completion and a coupon for the next course. I do plan on taking the next one, but I have decided to take a pottery course first.  I start working on the potter's wheel next week and I am extremely excited about it.  I have some experience with the wheel and am looking forward to honing my craft even more.

I made the cupcakes to my right for a fundraiser for Japan after the Tsunami of 2011 destroyed much of Northern Japan.  The company I work for held a bake sale on Take My Child to Work Day which was a really nice thing for the children to be a part of.  Instead of sitting in Mom or Dad's cubicle playing with rubber bands, the children were able to sell baked goods and other donations such as candy or Japan rubber band bracelets and plants, etc.  They had a blast and we were able to raise a nice amount to donate to the Red Cross.

The cute petal cups were purchased at a local Michael's store that has a big selection of Wilton products.  The pastel M&M's were a lucky find because Easter had just finished and the Easter candy sales had just begun.  I still need tons of practice at perfecting my drop flower technique but I think I got the icing swirl underneath down pretty well.

Here are some cute safari themed cupcakes I made for a colleague of mine who was holding her son's first birthday party.  I took a shortcut and bought the cute animal faces pre-made, along with the wraps on the outside of the cupcake wrapper, but I did bake them and fill them with vanilla pudding, then I added the icing grass with my spiffy new piping bag.  Overall they were a hit!

Here's a side view, showing the cute cupcake wraps that I found at Michael's.

This weekend I am attempting to make crab cakes with a red pepper puree dipping sauce and a cherry pie.  The last time I attempted crab cakes I could not get them to adhere, so check back Monday and see if I had success this time around!
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Magical Mushrooms

I had no idea I was missing out on these little fungi friends until I visited Manu's Menu.  Her Pappardelle with porcini mushrooms has such vibrant flavor and yet it takes less than 30 minutes to prep (there really is no prep) and cook.  The only kicker is finding fresh or frozen Porcinis is next to impossible, however dried Porcinis seem to be much easier to obtain.  When it came time to add the mushrooms I added a splash of warm water to moisten them and this worked just fine.  If you want to mail order fresh or frozen Porcinis there are two sites I found (see below) and both have ringing endorsements from many trusted sites I visit.  This dish is now a dinner staple in our house and I bet you will soon be saying the same.

Domestic Porcinis
Market of Delicacies- Frozen
Market of Delicacies- Fresh
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Death by Blueberry Pie

blueberry pie

This blueberry pie recipe is the easiest and most amazing pie I have ever tasted.  I used the half sugar/half splenda variation, and used Trader Joe's frozen pie crust (which tastes so homeade everyone thinks I made it on my own.)  The pie is mostly fruit and about 1/3 cup sugar for a 9 inch pie.  Really worth the 1.5 hrs in total (cook time included) it takes to create this beauty.  The saying "easy as pie" never made more sense to me. Enjoy!  Oh, and welcome to Sugar Overlord!  More yums to come.
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