Archive for the ‘Cakes, Pies, and Pastry’ Category

Unlikely Inspiration

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020
Tyler Hines and Lacey Chabert (with strudel!). This and other Hallmark images copyright 2019 Crown Media United States LLC, Photographer: David Brown

One of the reasons that I love writing about food is that ideas for my writing can come from just about anyone or anything I encounter. People, books, films, television shows: all are grist for my food mill.

Last week I found a new source for fictional recipes. My sister-in-law and I made strudel based on a film I viewed on … I blush to admit it … the Hallmark Channel.

Hallmark movies are one of my guilty pleasures. As a writer and a sort-of intellectual, I critique them for their focus on young, heterosexual, single-race romance, as well as for their frequent factual errors.

As a viewer, I get sucked into them all the same. They abound with light and color. Their heroines often have glamorous and fun if unlikely careers. The films solve everyone’s problems in the space of two hours (including ads).

Early this month I watched Winter in Vail, a typical Hallmark offering. Its heroine, an event planner from Los Angeles, inherits a spacious chalet in Colorado and decides to move there in January to reinvent her life.

She shortly finds community, a boyfriend, and a new focus for her party-planning expertise: organizing an event called Strudelfest. The festival reinvigorates the center of town and gives her a chance to show off her long dormant pastry-making skills.

Like many Hallmark movies, “Winter in Vail” features what might kindly be called improbabilities … or might unkindly be called gross factual errors.

First, when the heroine arrives at her chalet for the first time, she is dismayed to find that there is no heat. There is running water, but it is potable only in one bathroom.

Anyone who has ever lived in a cold place in winter (this category does not include the film’s writers, apparently) knows that an unheated house with running water ends up with frozen, often burst, pipes.

Second, the hero and heroine spend their first date sledding down a mountain at 5 p.m. The sky is suspiciously bright.

I know that Vail, Colorado, is located at a slightly lower latitude than my home in Hawley, Massachusetts. It’s not far enough south to have a bright sky at 5 p.m. in January, however. The writers clearly know little about geography and astronomy.

Third, the heroine’s chalet is a mess when she arrives in town; it needs new flooring, new plumbing, better heat, and fresh paint on all the walls. The hero (who is also her contractor) manages to fix all of these issues in a few days and charges her next to nothing.

I wish I could find a contractor like that! I’m pretty sure I never will.

Despite these and other conflicts with the world as most of us know it, the film is appealing. The actors portraying the heroine and hero, Lacey Chabert and Tyler Hines, are attractive and throw themselves into the fiction with gusto. And naturally as a food writer, I was captivated by the idea of a Strudelfest.

Strudels lined up at the fictional Strudelfest.

After watching Chabert and Hines learn to make strudel in the film, I decided to try my hand at this classic Viennese pastry. I have long needed a recipe related to Colorado for a project on which I am working.

I quickly confirmed that people in Colorado do indeed make and eat strudel (one cannot always trust the Hallmark Channel on such matters) and then got to work on my own mini-Strudelfest.

I enlisted the help of my sister-in-law Leigh, whose hands are lighter than mine when it comes to pastry … or anything else for that matter. I adapted the dough recipe for the strudel from King Arthur Flour and the filling from a variety of sources.

Our strudel didn’t quite match the one in the film in terms of looks. We (especially I) clearly need to work on our pastry skills. The end product was absolutely delicious, however.

“Winter in Vail” Strudel

Ingredients:

for the dough:

2-1/2 cups sifted bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons Canola or another neutral oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice

for the filling:

1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup dried cranberries
3 large apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons melted butter, divided
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs (if you don’t have these, crumble up bread into small pieces by hand and pulverize them in a powerful blender or food processor; then toast the crumbs at 300 degrees until they crisp up a bit, about 15 minutes)

for the glaze:

1-1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
about 2 to 3 tablespoons orange juice

Instructions:

Begin the day before you wish to serve your strudel. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flour and salt on low speed. In a liquid measuring cup whisk together the water, the egg yolks, and the oil; then whisk in the lemon juice.

With the mixer running, add the liquid to the dry ingredients in a slow, steady stream. Mix on low speed for 10 minutes. You may need to stop the mixer from time to time to rearrange your dough.

At the end of the 10 minutes the dough should have formed a relatively smooth ball around the dough hook. It should be slightly tacky, not sticky but not dry; if it does seem dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing for a minute before checking the texture.

Raise the mixer speed to medium and continue to mix for 10 minutes more. Transfer the dough to a medium-sized oiled bowl and turn the dough over a few times to coat it lightly with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for an hour or so to take off the chill. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Set up a table for your strudel preparation: a folding card table; a kitchen table; an island; or any small, flat area around which you can walk completely.

Place a tablecloth on the table, and place a wooden board on top. Lightly flour the board. Gently roll the dough out on the board, aiming for a rectangle that is about 13 inches long and 10 inches wide. Flour the tablecloth lightly, and oil your hands.

Using your fists rather than your fingertips (that is, the tops of your hands folded), stretch the dough in the air, trying to keep it rectangular. When it becomes a little hard to handle, place it on the lightly floured table.

Leigh at Work

Use your closed fists to stretch the dough one corner at a time, working outward from the center. The goal is to get the dough so thin you can see through it. Don’t be alarmed if the dough tears; you’ll be rolling it up, and the holes will be hidden inside.

Again, aim for a rectangle. The shorter sides of the rectangle should be about the length of your cookie sheet.

Once you have achieved the desired size, pull gently around the edges of the dough to make sure they aren’t too thick. If this is too hard, cut off the edges so you have a more-or-less uniform thickness.

Prepare your filling. Heat the orange juice to lukewarm, and place the dried cranberries in the warm juice. Let them soften for a few minutes while you slice your apples.

In a bowl, stir together the brown sugar, the cinnamon, the salt, and 3 tablespoons of the melted butter. Stir in the apple slices, followed by the drained cranberries.

To assemble the strudel, place the bread crumbs on one half of the strudel (lengthwise), leaving an inch or so of crust on three sides with no crumbs. Cover the crumbed area with the apple mixture. Drizzle butter (don’t spread it; it might tear the dough) over the other half of the dough.

Fold the extra strudel dough on the three sides over the filling, and begin rolling gently at the end with the filling and continue to roll until you have a long roll ending with the butter.

Gently roll the strudel onto a piece of parchment paper, seam side down, and slide the parchment onto your cookie sheet.

Bake the strudel until it is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes, turning it around in the oven after 15 minutes.

Place the baking sheet with the strudel on a wire rack to cool for 1/2 hour; then gently transfer it to a serving dish or platter and prepare the glaze.

To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioner’s sugar and 2 tablespoons of orange juice. Add a little more juice as needed to make the glaze drizzle-able but not liquid. Drizzle it on top of the strudel, and slice. Serves 8 to 10.

Pumpkin Season

Monday, October 15th, 2018

I don’t participate in the current craze for pumpkin-spice EVERYTHING. Still, I like to make something new every fall that involves pumpkin. This fall it was some simple cupcakes: moist and tasty, easy to share with a crowd.

I like them with cream-cheese frosting, but the icing is up to you. In fact, you may choose to eschew frosting altogether and call them pumpkin muffins.

I made them this past week on television, along with my beloved broccoli soup. The combination made a perfect simple supper the next evening.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Ingredients:

3/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup raisins

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 16 muffin tins with paper liners. (You may end up with slightly more or fewer cupcakes.)

Mix the oil and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each egg. Beat in the vanilla, followed by the baking powder, the baking soda, and the spices. Stir in the flour, followed by the pumpkin, the coconut, and the raisins.

Spoon the batter into the prepared tins. Bake until the cakes tests done, about 20 to 25 minutes. Frost with your favorite frosting (or not!). Makes about 16 cupcakes.

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Broccoli Soup

Tinky Makes Pumpkin Cupcakes

Tarzan Was My Sous Chef

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

You Tarzan, Me Cook

This week on Mass Appeal I cooked lovely seasonal foods and had an unexpected helper.

One of the fun things about appearing on this lifestyle show is that I get to meet other guests, some of whom have become friends over the years.

On Tuesday the main other guests were members of the Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who came on the show to talk about their new production of the musical Tarzan.

A nice young man named Tim immediately came into the kitchen and offered to help me prepare my food, telling me that he loved to cook. I ALWAYS say yes when someone offers to help cook. Tim turned out to be the star of the show; he is playing Tarzan.

I hope to see him swing through the jungle next week. Meanwhile, although Tim was in training (Tarzan’s muscles have to be impressive) I managed to persuade him to nibble just a little. After all, no one should cook and then not be able to eat!

We made peach cobbler, rendered extra flavorful, and extra crunchy, with cornmeal. I am teaching an all-corn class at the Baker’s Pin in Northampton, Massachusetts, in a couple of weeks, and I have been pondering how to incorporate corn into a dessert since I always like to serve a full meal. Using cornmeal might be cheating—but it IS corn based!

We also made a lovely bright blueberry salsa.

Happy August!

Crunchy Peach Cobbler

Ingredients:

for the fruit base:

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 cups chopped peaches (or half peaches and half blueberries or raspberries)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, diced

for the cobbler crust:

3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 1-1/2-quart casserole dish.

Begin by making the base. Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a smallish nonreactive pot. Stir in the fruit and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil, stirring gently, for 1 minute. Remove the fruit from the heat and stir in the cinnamon. Spread the fruit in the prepared pan. Dot the top with butter.

To make the crust whisk together the flour, the cornmeal, the sugar, the baking powder, and the salt. Cut in the butter, but don’t overdo the process. You should still have tiny pieces of butter in the mixture.

Whisk together the milk, egg, and vanilla. Add them to the dry ingredients, and mix just until moist. Drop the resulting mixture onto the peaches, and spread it around to cover the fruit. Sprinkle brown sugar over all in little clumps. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Serves 8.

Blueberry Salsa

Ingredients:

2 cups blueberries
the juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt (more or less, to taste)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
a handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Instructions:

Chop or lightly crush about 1/2 cup of the blueberries. Stir them back into the remaining berries.

In a bowl stir together the lime juice and the salt. Stir in the pepper, the onion, and the cilantro; then add the berries.

Refrigerate the salsa for a couple of hours for maximum flavor. Serve with tortilla chips, over chicken or fish, or with crackers and cream cheese. Makes about 2 cups.

And now the videos…..

Crunchy Peach Cobbler

Blueberry Salsa

We’ll Always Have Paris

Friday, May 11th, 2018

My mother (the farthest person to the right) and her friends at the French House at Mount Holyoke College in 1939.

On Mother’s Day—and on many other days of the year—I think fondly of my late mother. I often cook something she enjoyed making and eating.

When I was planning today’s Mother’s Day appearance on Mass Appeal, I thought of my mother’s love of Paris, a love she passed on to me, and decided to make crêpes. This classic Parisian street food can be savory or sweet.

I’m not the world’s best crêpe maker. My crêpes aren’t perfectly flat and even. They are good enough, however—and they’re delicious!

My mother first fell in love with Paris and France on a trip there after her freshman year at Mount Holyoke, escorted (along with several other students) by a professor and his wife.

She happily went back to Paris for her junior year abroad, acquiring such a flawless Parisian accent that she was mistaken for a Frenchwoman. (My French was pretty darn good, but French people always knew I was American.) And she returned again and again throughout her life.

Here’s a paragraph she wrote in a diary in 1953, when she visited the city as a young mother and went to see a play at the Comédie-Française:

During the intermission I wandered into the lobby and delighted my soul further as I looked out through the colonnades at the fountains in front. I felt as tho I were re-finding Paris as I had loved it! And the life—the magnetic life of the city as I saw it again wandering through the streets, the narrow streets thronged with shops and people.

I like to think that my crêpes would have delighted her soul, too! I can’t replicate those shops and people, but I like to think that I can recreate a little taste of Paris in her honor.

Making the crêpes on Mass Appeal didn’t go QUITE as planned. Live TV is live TV. I had an egg mishap, and I never got to turn the darn things on camera. We had fun anyway—and the end product was delicious.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Classic Savory or Sweet Crêpes

Ingredients:

for the crêpes:

2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons melted butter
more butter as needed

for the fillings:

lots of butter
grated Gruyère or Jarlsberg cheese OR lemon juice and sugar

Instructions:

Place the eggs in a blender, and blend them to mix them. Add the milk, salt, and flour, and blend again on low speed. Blend in the melted butter.

Cover your blender bowl, and let the batter sit for at least 30 minutes before making the crêpes.

When you are ready to cook, melt a small amount of butter in an 8-inch nonstick frying pan over medium-low heat. Spread the butter around with a pastry brush or a paper towel.

Pour a few tablespoons of batter into the middle of the pan. Swirl the pan around to distribute the batter as well as you can into an even, flat pancake. Cook for a couple of minutes, until the bottom is light brown and the edges left up easily; then flip the crêpe and let it cook on the other side.

Remove the crêpe from the pan, and let it cool on a plate or rack. Continue until you have used up your batter.

You may fill your crêpes to make them either savory or sweet. For savory crêpes (known as galettes), melt butter in an 8- or 10-inch nonstick frying pan. Spread it around as you did for the crêpes. Place 1 crêpe on the pan, let it cook for a few seconds in the butter, and then flip it over. Sprinkle grated cheese on top, and let it melt for a minute or so; then fold the crêpe over the cheese to make a half circle. Cook until the cheese melts; then remove the galette from the heat. Repeat with the remaining crêpes.

The process for making sweet crêpes is similar, but instead of putting cheese on the inside you will sprinkle sugar and a small amount of lemon juice inside each crêpe.

Makes about 10 crêpes.

And now the videos:

Tinky Starts the Crêpes on Mass Appeal

Tinky Finishes the Crêpes (more or less)

 

Warmth and Cider High on a Hill

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

High on a hill on Reynolds Road in Shelburne, Massachusetts, Wheel-View Farm enjoys a stunning view. The farm house and much of the land have been in Carolyn Wheeler’s family since 1896, although she and her husband John have added to their property over the years.

Originally a dairy farm, Wheel-View now sells mostly beef, fruit, maple products, and hard and sweet cider. When I visited last fall, the Wheelers were getting ready for Cider Days. Cider season is, of course, over—but we’re still enjoying (if that’s the word) cool weather so it FEELS like cider season.

I was fortunate enough to be able to watch John Wheeler press fresh cider—and to taste his product. The Wheelers have a small but efficient cider-pressing system they purchased from OESCO in Conway, Massachusetts. John explained that the press was discovered in Italy, where it is used to press grapes for wine.

The pressing has two stages. First, John feeds fresh, crisp apples into an electric grinder. When I visited he was using a blend of Golden Delicious, Macoun, and Liberty varieties.

Next, the ground apples are transferred to a round press with a “bladder” in the middle. The press is powered by water from a garden hose. The water fills and expands the bladder, pushing the apple pieces out to the edges of the press. Holes in the sides allow the cider to flow out in a waterfall.

When the cider has finished flowing, the dry leftover pulp becomes a treat for the Wheelers’ cattle. It is the only thing the cattle eat other than grass and hay from their own pasture.

Nothing is wasted—and the cider has a deep, rich flavor. It was without doubt the best cider I have ever had. It tasted just like apples. I love apples.

After the pressing, Carolyn Wheeler took me to her cider tasting room, which opened in 2016.

Designed by Carolyn in an old outbuilding, the large, wood-paneled room welcomes visitors who want to buy cider or beef, as well as those who want to try a glass of hard or sweet cider on the spot along with a snack.

The tasting room is also a museum of sorts. Carolyn has filled it with antiques and collectibles from the farm’s past, including many pieces of household and farm equipment. As a music lover, I enjoyed testing her player piano and listening to “The Happy Wanderer” on her family’s Victrola.

The bill of sale for the Victrola hangs on the wall behind the record player. “My family never threw anything out,” Carolyn said with a smile as she pointed to the receipt.

The Wheelers have welcomed a number of groups to the tasting room and the farm, from school (and college) students to the members of senior centers and granges in the area. Their visitors are encouraged to try to identify the uses of the pieces of farm equipment on display.

The Wheelers are retired educators. They view Wheel-View not just as a source of food but also as a source of information about farming practices in the past and present. As they look toward the future, Carolyn told me, they hope the farm can be maintained as some kind of educational center.

Meanwhile, the pair are making the most of their life as farmers. They have recently revived a traditional New England apple product John Wheeler’s grandmother used to enjoy, cider syrup (also known as boiled cider).

This is cider boiled down to concentrate the flavor. The pair sell it in three flavors: plain cider syrup, cider syrup mixed with maple, and cinnamon cider syrup.

Carolyn showed off the syrup’s versatility for me in a sweet-and-savory slow-cooker pot roast that also featured Wheel-View Farm’s beef. I made it on Mass Appeal this week, along with my grandmother’s chocolate cake. (My TV appearance coincided with what would have been her—gasp!—129th birthday.)

Wheel-View Farm’s cider tasting room is open most weekends, although would-be visitors are encouraged to call or check the farm’s website before venturing forth.

By the way, as I mention in the second video below, I’ll be teaching a free recipe-writing workshop on Sunday, May 6, as part of ArtWeek here in Massachusetts. This week celebrates arts of all sorts and features hundreds of events, many of which are free. If you’re in the neighborhood and are thinking of writing up a recipe or two (for publication, or even just for friends a family members), I hope you’ll come. Preregistration is required, but that’s not hard to do. Here are the details.

Wheel-View Farm Cider-Syrup Pot Roast

Ingredients:

3 to 4 pounds beef roast (I used chuck)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 dash nutmeg
pepper to taste (3/4 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons)
1/2 cup catsup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup cider syrup or cider-maple syrup

Instructions:

Place the roast in a slow cooker. Combine the remaining ingredients and spread them on top of the beef. Cook for 6 to 8 hours on high. There is no need to add water; the roast makes its own gravy. You may also cook it on high for 1/2 hour and then let the beef cook overnight on low.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, place the beef in a covered pan and spread the sauce on top; then place it in a preheated 500-degree oven. After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 250 degrees and cook for several hours or overnight. (I haven’t tried this method, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t work!)

When the beef has finished cooking, remove it from the pot, cut it up if necessary (it mostly just falls apart), and return it to the sauce.

Serves 6 to 8.


And now the videos:


Tinky Makes Wheel-View Farm Cider-Syrup Pot Roast


Tinky Makes Her Grandmother’s Chocolate Cake