Monday, June 25, 2012

Cherry Berry Pie

When summer fruit is at its peak, a Cherry Berry pie is a delicious way to use it up. If you can, use fruit from your local farmer's market (or even your own garden), since it will taste better the fresher it is. I used dark sweet cherries, strawberries and raspberries for this recipe to get a deep red color. You can use any combination of cherries and berries you have on hand, but do not use more than 1 cup raspberries. They turn to mush when cooked, and contain small seeds, so you will end up with a mushy, seedy filling. 1 cup or less is good just for flavor.

Note: If you are looking for a traditional tart cherry pie, see the cherry pie recipe on my recipe page instead of this one.

Cherry Berry Pie:

This recipe makes one DEEP dish pie. If you have a shallow pie plate, you can lessen the measurements for the filling, or cook the leftover filling briefly on the stovetop then store in the fridge to use as a jam.

Prepare and chill one recipe Flaky Pie Crust

3 Cups dark, sweet cherries (I used Bing cherries)
2 Cups ripe strawberries
1 cup ripe raspberries
3/4 Cup Sugar (you can add more or less to taste, depending on how sweet your fruit is)
1/4 Cup Instant Tapioca beads (available near the pudding in your grocery store)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional

Wash the fruit and drain well. Pit the cherries and slice in half. Cut the strawberries into halves (or quarters for very large berries). Leave the raspberries whole. Mix the cherries and strawberries together in a large bowl with the sugar, tapioca and almond extract. Let this mixture sit and macerate for at least 20 minutes. Fold in the raspberries last.

Line the pie plate with the bottom crust. Sprinkle a little flour in the bottom and then add fruit mixture. Cover with the top crust and crimp edges. Cut slits into the top crust to vent (I attempted a decorative polka-dot design here, but it didn't look as pretty as I thought it would.) Brush crust with milk and sprinkle sugar on top. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 40 minutes, or until golden brown on top and the filling is bubbling. Check the pie halfway through baking to see if the edges are getting too brown - if so, cover edges with foil.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cooked Milk Buttercream

Once again, I have to ask myself why-oh-why did a classic old-fashioned recipe go out of style? This retro kind of frosting is SO good, tasting like a cross between homemade vanilla pudding and whipped cream. I don't know why nobody makes it anymore. There are many different recipes for this, but the one I tried recently was from the book United Cakes of America by Warren Brown. This book is a treasure trove of old-fashioned recipes. I do take exception to certain things in the book (like the strangely flat and un-authentic looking Whoopie Pies, for example) but overall the book's concept of capturing regional favorites is great, even if it doesn't quite live up to its FULL potential. Okay, this isn't a book review, so on to the recipe:

 Warren Brown's "Old-Fashioned Milk Buttercream"

1 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup All-purpose Flour
1 Cup Unsalted Butter (if you only have salted butter, omit the salt in the recipe)
1 Cup Superfine granulated sugar (put regular granulated sugar through a food-processor)
Pinch of Salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Put 4 Tablespoons of the milk and all of the flour into a small saucepan. Using a wire whisk, whisk them together vigorously to mix well and make a slurry.  Press out any lumps with a rubber spatula if necessary. Turn the heat on under the pan and add the rest of the milk. Whisking continuously, bring the mixture to a simmer for about 30 seconds (it is thick, but you will see it bubble up. Let it bubble while stirring constantly, for a good thirty seconds to cook off the starchiness of the flour). Take the pan off of the heat. To avoid getting a "pudding skin" on the surface, press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the milk (which will be thick like a custard at this point). Cool the mixture to room temperature.

Meanwhile, with an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla on medium speed for about 5 minutes (don't shorten the beating time - you need the butter to be fluffy and the sugar to be less grainy. The sugar will dissolve even further when you mix the thickened milk in.)

When the milk mixture has cooled, spoon it into the butter/sugar and beat for another five minutes, or until you have a spreadable consistency.

This will frost a regular 9" two-layer cake, or 24 cupcakes.

Note: This buttercream is a great choice for standard layer cakes or swirls on cupcakes. It is not for piping intricate decorations. It will stand up just fine at room temperature, but on a hot day you should refrigerate your cake/cupcakes until about 30 minutes before serving. (The butter solidifies in the fridge making the frosting hard, so take them out 30-60 minutes prior to serving, depending on how hot the day is).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Black & White Cake

Super-dark chocolate cake looks stunning with bright white icing. This cake is so moist that is doesn't slice very neatly (as you can see), but boy is it delicious! The dark chocolate color really looks black when you put it next to white icing. This comes from using Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder and strong coffee. This recipe is inspired by the classic Hershey's chocolate cake recipe, but I have made several adjustments until I have something that I like even better than the original:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prep two 9" or 10" round cake pans with parchment paper.

1 3/4 Cups All-purpose Flour
2 cups Sugar
3/4 Cup Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
1 Cup hot strong coffee

In a large mixer bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside. (To make it easier, you can just mix this in your KitchenAid mixer on low until well-combined).

In a smaller bowl, beat eggs lightly. Add the milk, oil, vanilla and stir well.

Add the egg/milk mixture into the dry ingredients and beat on medium for about 90 seconds.

Add the coffee in last, stirring by hand just until it is thoroughly mixed. This batter is very liquidy, so don't be alarmed when it looks thin. 

Bake approximately 30-35 minutes (until the center springs back to the touch or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean).

Cool and frost with Seven Minute Icing

When slicing, wipe the knife clean in between cuts. You may even want to run the knife under hot water before cutting to make it even cleaner. But let's face it - when you have a really moist dark cake with white icing, you're going to get crumbs all in it. Oh well. Enjoy! :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Does the type of pan you use really matter?

Check out these two chocolate chip cookies. They were baked on the same day, with the same dough and the same oven temp. The ONLY thing that was different was the cookie sheet I used.

I had been wondering why my chocolate chip cookies always seemed to spread too much and come out really flat. Sometimes they were fine, but often they were too flat and crispy.  What was I doing wrong? I've been baking cookies for a long time, why could I not get something as basic as chocolate chip to come out consistently good??? When a friend's cookies came out puffier and she had used the same recipe as me, I was baffled.

Then suddenly it dawned on me that I have seven different cookie sheets and I had never really thought about how each one performs a little differently. After I thought about it, I realized that certain cookie sheets tended to make flatter, browner (and crisper) cookies, while other cookie sheets let them stay puffier and softer. How could I not have thought of it sooner?!

You can experiment with different pans to see what works best for you, but here are some recommendations to start with. (This goes for both cookie sheets and cake pans): 1) Use good quality aluminum pans and cookie sheets that DO NOT have a dark non-stick coating. Darker pans tend to overbrown. I prefer not to use any pans with a non-stick coating, even a lighter non-stick coating. (You can always line the pans with parchment if non-stick sprays don't work for you.)  Good quality pans will usually be aluminum and feel very sturdy but not overly heavy. If they feel really lightweight, they will probably warp. If they feel super-heavy, you probably paid too much for some new-fangled bells and whistles that won't help you bake better in the long run. As far as brands go, it is hard to recommend one brand because most companies make regular and non-stick bakeware, as well as making a variety of lines (for everything from the amateur home cook to the pro).  One thing I do not recommend is those silly air-bake things that have a double layer of metal with air between. Don't even waste money on those.

Avoiding dark coated pans is a recommendation that goes for all bakeware as far as I'm concerned. I know that stores like Williams-Sonoma sell pricey bakeware that is supposedly non-stick. But honestly, you'll have to spray or line the pan with parchment anyway, because nothing is truly non-stick. And here's a side-note: half of what you find in those kind of stores is just an array of expensive gadgets with a lot of bells and whistles for wanna-be chefs, not genuinely useful equipment. The bakeware sections in these stores are chock-full of dark non-stick cake pans, which really are not the best for baking. You'd be better off to buy your bakeware from a kitchen supply store or a cake decorating store where they sell the kind of pans that pros use.

For more about cake pans, see my post about Levelling cake layers

Tip: If you must use a pan (for any kind of baking) that has a dark non-stick coating, try lowering your oven temp by 25 degrees. This usually solves the problem, but you still have to watch things very carefully with these pans.

Happy Baking!