Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday Must Haves 2014

The winter holidays are fast approaching and it's time to start shopping for friends and family.  OK, it's also time to treat oneself to some gifts to brighten up the season.  Many of you will be shopping over the weekend by visiting stores or by going online to a favorite outlet.  If you are making any holiday purchases online, I have a few suggestions you might be interested in.  These are a handful of products that not only catch my eye, but those which will greatly enhance your home.  I'm all for having things in my house that are built and made to last.  Quality is much more important to me than quantity.  

Let's face it, I'm not Oprah, but I do know what I like and I do know what makes my life easier and more enjoyable.  This holiday, I'm going to be turning to some of my favorite finds for gift giving, because they are quality products that will last for years.  These five must-haves for 2014 will undoubtedly carry over through 2015 and beyond.  I wouldn't be recommending any of this if I didn't think you would like them.

I introduced the company, ARNGE, to you last year here on the blog.  As I follow their progress and their forward-thinking designs through various social media outlets, I am truly convinced that the designers at Arnge are on a mission to beautify our spaces one pillow at a time.  Just look at the small portion of what they have to offer!  By the way, if you shop now, don't forget to enter their promo code for a discount.  What could be better?

This gigantic professional rolling pin by Ateco is my secret when it comes to rolling out doughs for pies, tarts, pastries and cookies.  Its 18" length and hefty weight make rolling out anything a breeze, because it only takes a few swipes to flatten out even the stiffest doughs.  I bought mine almost 10 years ago and use it every single week.  You have to dedicate a spot for it in your kitchen, because it is large, but it's a baker's tool that you will reach for repeatedly. This is an absolute must-have in my humble opinion.  The Web Restaurant Store offers this rolling pin for a very good price.  It's at least $20 cheaper here than anywhere else.  

I absolutely adore the cookie cutters that Williams-Sonoma has been producing for the holidays.  They understand the types of shapes and the quality of cookie cutters we bakers want.  Available in stainless steel or shimmery copper, the holiday shapes will help you through the season to create the most beautiful cookies.  Above, are among my favorite cookie cutters that are currently out: old-fashioned Christmas lights, dreidels, snowflakes, ornaments, Christmas trees and a candle with candleholder, are just a few of what is there.  Click on the link above and pick out your favorites!

While you're shopping at Williams-Sonoma, I highly recommend these tempered glass bowls.  Sold as a nesting set, the bowls will come in quite handy when making cookie doughs and various icings.  They are an absolute must have for every single kitchen.  The best thing about them is that they're very inexpensive.  Why not pick up a set for a friend or relative to give as a present?

This British tea kettle by Simplex, to my mind, is the best kettle out there.  The mirror chrome finish over solid copper brings water up to a boil in no time at all.  The traditional whistling kettles manufactured in the United Kingdom will look good in anyone's kitchen.  I've had mine for a good 15 years and it still looks shiny and new; it's always sitting on my stovetop ready for the next cuppa.  Although the kettle is pricey, I feel that in the years I've been making tea (at least once a day) the kettle has paid for itself! 

✻ ✻ 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a day to be grateful and thankful for what we have in our lives.  Many of us will either be hosting a traditional dinner or will be traveling to someone's home for this time-honored repast.  Remember to thank your host(s)!

I want to wish you and your loved ones good health, happy eats and safe travels.  

Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Thanksgiving Checklist

We all want to entertain with ease this Thanksgiving so that we can actually enjoy the company of our family and friends.  In order to accomplish this and avoid any mishaps or a day full of stress, having a to-do list mapped out in advance is a must for every host.  The easiest part is making up the guest list and trying to figure out who will actually show up.  The most challenging aspect for anyone hosting this dinner is the menu itself, with the numerous side dishes and the perfectly roasted, plump turkey as the main attraction.

Perhaps the most fun thing to do, at least for me, is the table setting and the decorations that go into making this day memorable.  Now is the time to take out the best of the best and all of the season's finery to impress our guests, but whether one sets the table it in a modest way or in an over-the-top lavish way, it's best to establish a tone and mood based on who we're inviting.  No guest should ever feel out of place at the holiday table.

Fine China
There are no rules when it comes to choosing china on Thanksgiving.  Use all white plates which go with everything or choose fine pieces in earthy, seasonal tones if you have them.

Gilded Wedgwood Drabware
I personally enjoy using Wedgwood drabware (gilded or plain) or a mix of creams & brown transferware.  

Wedgwood Queen's Ware & Brown Transferware
You don't have to have a full service of one particular china set to make a meal festive, so if you're going to mix and match, do make sure that you stick with colors and tones that complement one another.  Locate those platters and serving bowls that will hold all of your sides.  It's best to set those aside the weekend before with post-its attached to them labeled with the contents that will be served in them.

Glassware & Silverware
Depending on what types of beverages you'll be serving, have all of your glassware washed and sparkling clean.  Nothing is worse than sitting down at a table and seeing spots or fingerprints on glasses set before us.
  • Every guest should have a water glass, which can be in the form of a tumbler, highball or even a goblet.  
  • If you're serving wine, choose wine glasses and designate what type will be served in them.  If you're going to have a tasting of different wines, have glasses for white wines and some for red wines.  I'm not a stickler when it comes to having a specific Bordeaux wine glass if I'm serving that type.  I have a mix of new and antique glassware which make serving wines a bit more interesting. 
  • Pick out the silverware you want to set your table with and polish it if you need to.  Remember, you don't have to have matching sets of everything or a full dinner service to set a nice table.  You can certainly make a mismatched place setting seem interesting if you pay attention to style and proportion.  For instance, if you only have 4 place settings of one pattern and 4 of another, alternate the settings for a cohesive look.  By the way, although I've read that cleaning silverware in the dishwasher is safe, I NEVER do so.  I wash all of my silver by hand and buff dry with a cotton towel.
  • If you want to make it easier on yourself, use a good set of stainless steel flatware that is dishwasher safe.  

  • Tablecloths should be ironed at least one day in advance and set aside in a closet until it's time to set the table.  If you can, set the table a day ahead and close off all access to it from your pets.  Choose the right size cloth for your table and one which will complement your china and glassware.  For this dinner which is more formal, you should have an overhang of 10-15 inches on either side of the table to make it feel luxurious. 
  • Table runners can be used in lieu of a tablecloth for a more informal approach to the table setting.  These can be made to run the entire length of the table and should have drops of 15 inches on either side.  They can also be made to run crosswise to define the seating arrangements.  
  • Table napkins don't necessarily have to match the tablecloth.  Choose napkins that pick up the colors of the cloth or the colors of your china and have them measure 18 inches to 24 inches.  Napkins can be folded any number of ways or they can be used with napkin rings.  Have a few extra napkins in case anyone drops them and line bowls or baskets with them meant to hold rolls.  By the way, don't be gauche and tuck that napkin into your collar.  It's not nice!  Keep it tucked on your lap.
  • Placemats are an easy option for those who don't want a tablecloth.  They are best suited for a more informal meal though.  Make sure your table is large enough to give plenty of space in between each place setting when using placemats.  Four inches is a good rule of thumb.    

  • If you have a crafter in your family, ask them to make a few simple arrangements for you.  Small wreaths can be made out of wheat or ears of corn and placecards can be made out of tiny pumpkins or gourds.  You don't need to glitter everything to make it look nice.
  • A cornucopia of fruits (fresh or dried) and nuts can be placed along the length of the table to create a sense of bounty.  It can act as the centerpiece without any other adornment.  If you have nuts in their shells, provide nutcrackers.  
  • Fresh flowers should be left to be arranged the day before Thanksgiving so that they are fresh & vibrant.  Choose flowers that don't have strong scents that will compete with the aromas of the food being served and for conversation purposes, make low arrangements so that everyone can see one another.  You're not holding a state dinner at the White House!   


  • Make room for it in your refrigerator.  I always get fresh turkeys from a butcher which specializes in poultry, but I know many who buy frozen; determine 1 to 1 1/2 lbs for every guest.  Frozen turkeys need to be given 24 hours of thawing in the refrigerator for every 4-5lbs.  A 16-20lb. frozen turkey will take 4-5 days to thaw and a 20-24lb frozen turkey will take 5-6 days to thaw.  Plan ahead!  Have all of the necessary tools to prepare a good bird such as a roasting pan that can accommodate it, kitchen twine to truss it, a bulb baster to keep it moist as it cooks, a meat thermometer to check for doneness, a large platter to set it for serving and a sharpened knife to make carving easy & neat.
  • If you plan on delegating sides to a few of your guests, make sure to tell them what to bring.  You don't want any overlap.  It's best if guests bring something that doesn't have to take up precious oven time from your preparations.  Fresh vegetables make the best tasting sides, but in a pinch, frozen produce such as squash, spinach, baby lima beans or corn can be used with great success.  If any of your recipes call for blanching the vegetables, do it a day in advance and keep them stored in the refrigerator until right before you saute and heat them.  
  • Mashed Potatoes are a must!  Make room for them on your stovetop.  I like to make the potatoes 2 hours before serving time and keep them in a covered bowl set over hot water on the stove.  I leave a layer of milk on top of the spuds so that they don't dry out and do a final mix right before I put them in the serving bowl.  If they do seem a little dry, add more milk or stock to lighten them.
  • Bread doughs meant for rolls can be made early in the morning and be baked the moment the turkey comes out.  It is helpful though to have a second oven, even if it's a countertop convection oven.  These little ovens are a great help during the holidays for this purpose!  
  • Whether you're serving a red wine or white wine, or both, it's a good idea to buy a few bottles now.  Visit your local wine store before the mad rush and calculate 6 pourings for every 750ml bottle.  What you end up buying is up to you, but a good Pinot Noir is a good bet or any one that doesn't have a lot of tannins.  We're having turkey not a porterhouse steak or prime rib.  Save those for another occasion.  What I do encourage is that you chill your whites thoroughly before serving time.  It's nice to have 1 or 2 bottles of white wine in ice buckets at the dinner table for the first pouring and any subsequent bottles in the refrigerator.  Red wines also benefit from a little chilling.  These shouldn't be served ice cold, mind you, but they should not be served warm or at room temperature, despite what you might think.  Giving a red up to 30 minutes of chilling in the refrigerator (never put wine bottles in the freezer!) makes it more quaffable. 

  • Pies, custards, cakes and cookies should be made a day or two ahead of time.  Keep custards, pumpkin pies or cream pies well covered in the refrigerator and fruit pies or nut pies out at room temperature, well covered.  Cakes made without any frostings or fillings (think pumpkin pound cake!) can be left out at room temperature well covered, as can any type of cookie.  Pie or cake baking should not be done on Thanksgiving day.  If any of your guests offer to bake something for your gathering, let them.  Any sauces meant to accompany these desserts should also be made in advance and be stored properly in the refrigerator    
  • Whipped creams should be left until the last minute.  If you're making a flavored whipped cream, steep the cream a day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator.  The cream, bowl & whisk should be chilled in the refrigerator until serving time.
Coffees & Teas

  • It's nice to offer both coffee and tea to accompany the dessert course.  Have decaf coffee for those who prefer it and the necessary sugars, honeys & milk to go with these hot beverages.  


After your most gracious host or hostess has finished with the last of the serving, do help out in some way with the clean up.  Even if the washing is to be done by dishwasher, it's always nice to lend a hand.  If antique glassware, silverware or china has been used, none of it should go in the dishwasher.  Ask beforehand if you can be entrusted with these valuables, because some hosts will rather do it themselves.  If you're going to be a guest at someone's home this Thanksgiving, offer to make or bring something for the table.  And remember, a hostess gift goes a long way toward making anyone feel appreciated, so don't overlook it.  


If you have a tried and true method on how to pull off this holiday dinner without a hitch, by all means stick with it.  For the first-time host or hostess, or for those who need a little bit of prompting because you've been procrastinating, go through the list of items I've compiled and be realistic about what you can and can't do.  Don't be afraid to ask for help when it comes to hosting a crowd this Thanksgiving, because most people generally do want to help out with the preparations.  Use the list as a guide and tailor it to your specifications, wishes and festive approach to entertaining.  Everyone has their own style and unique flair when it comes to entertaining, so use these personal touches to their advantage.  The main point of this holiday is to be thankful, grateful & appreciative for what we have.  I have a lot to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Pumpkin Cornbread

The idea of mixing pumpkin and corn is nothing new.  At my house, cornbread is the bread of choice for the stuffing on Thanksgiving, and true to my predilections, it has to be homemade.  As I was thinking of the stuffing for our turkey this year, I decided to change it up a bit from previous years by adding delicious pumpkin puree to the cornbread.  Not only does pumpkin add flavor to anything it touches, but it makes baked goods uncommonly tasty.  I'm pleased with the results.

After conversing with a good friend of mine from the south, we both agreed that one ought to add sugar to any type of cornbread.  I don't mean that it has to be sweet bordering on cake, but there should be just enough to give it another dimension.  Again, it's the combination of sweet and salty.  

What emerges from the oven is a thick cornbread that you'll be proud of bringing over to the holiday table for your guests.  The bread can be cut into squares of equal size or it can be left whole and brought to the table so that each guest can take however much they want.  Of the utmost importance is having a good, softened butter at the ready and, if you can, some Cranberry Relish.  It's such a treat to slather a wedge of this cornbread with them.

If you're like me and want to make this bread for your stuffing, bake the bread and leave it out to dry overnight.  It's sturdy enough to cut into small squares for a tasty stuffing, but remember, if you're entertaining a large crowd, I strongly advise you make several recipes of my cornbread.

Let's bake!

  • 1-1/2 cups {215 g.} all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cups {235 g.} yellow cornmeal
  • 3 teaspoons {15 ml.} baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons {7.5 ml.} fine sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons {120 ml.} granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons {113 g.} unsalted butter, melted & cooled
  • 1 cup {225 g.} pumpkin puree
  • 1-1/2 cups {360 ml.} milk, room temperature
Equipment: 9x9" square baking pan, parchment paper.
Yield: 9 servings

Butter the baking pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.

Center an oven rack 
Preheat to 350° F (177°C)

  • In a large bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, cornmeal, baking powder, fine sea salt and sugar.  Whisk to combine.
  • In a large measuring cup, whisk to combine the eggs, melted butter, pumpkin puree and milk.  Pour this over the dry ingredients.
  • With the whisk, stir to combine the ingredients.  Pour into the prepared baking pan and pop it into the preheated oven.
  • Bake the cornbread for approximately 35-40 minutes, or until the top is set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out free of crumbs.
  • Let cool in the baking pan for 5 minutes, then invert it onto a cooling rack.  Gently remove the baking pan and reinvert the bread to cool right side up.

 A great big wedge served with some butter is the perfect accompaniment to a juicy roast turkey.  Delicious.

I hope you make my Pumpkin Cornbread
a part of your Thanksgiving table.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Squirrel, Acorn, Bat and Turkey Cookies

Giant squirrel, turkey, bat & acorn cookies that are delectably iced in hues of green, brown, orange and yellow icing, undoubtedly bespeak autumn.  Who doesn't love the furry cuteness of a sugar squirrel as it jumps across the lawn with a mighty acorn in its mouth or the hooting of an inquisitive owl perched high up on a tree in the distance this time of year?  The plumage of heritage turkeys is a sight to behold, but when it takes the form of a cookie, anything goes.  What matters here most is that you, the baker, have fun when making memorable cookies.

My Martha by Mail copper cookie cutters which have now become iconic, get used throughout the year for baking.  The ones that I chose (Sugar Squirrel & Mighty AcornChubby Pumpkin & Tom Turkey and Owl & Bat) are among my favorite.  I wanted the cookies to be specific for gifting to individual friends, so I didn't use every single cutter from these sets.  Admittedly, there are no green squirrels, orange owls or yellow-feathered turkeys in nature that I know of, but that's alright.  Let's stretch our imaginations just a little bit and make cookies that are colorful, tasty and absolutely outlandish.

Keep in mind that every cookie you see here was made with my Sugar & Spice Cookie Recipe and, of course, that Perfect Royal Icing.  Last, but not least, are the embellishments of pearl candies and colored sanding sugars.

The rest is up to your imagination!

A green Sugar Squirrel will surely delight anyone with a sweet tooth.  Trace the squirrel's tail with orange icing, leaving some cookie exposed.  Flood it with icing of the same color; let dry.  Pipe a green belly with royal icing and flock it with green sanding sugar; let dry.  Wipe off any stray sugar crystals with a  fine brush.  Pipe the rest of the squirrel's body & fill it with a mint-green royal icing, setting a black pearl candy for an eye.  Let dry. 

This stately Tom Turkey is fit for Thanksgiving dessert.  Outline and flood the turkey cookie with dark brown royal icing; let dry.  With mint-green royal icing, delineate feathers, feet, and an eye.  Let dry.  Pipe dots around outlines with dark-brown royal icing and chartreuse dots within the confines of the tail feathers.  Let dry completely.

A three-toned Mighty Acorn was given the royal treatment.  Starting from the top: outline the cap of the acorn with dark-brown royal icing and flood it, giving the shape a scalloped border.  Immediately pipe the next row with a dark orange shade of royal icing.  Finish the acorn with mint-green royal icing.  While wet, carefully drop pearl candies along the points of the scallops.  Let dry completely.

The Wise Owl is certainly a colorful hoot!  Outline and flood the adorable head in brown royal icing and while still wet, pipe two large green eyes and small orange dots for its "brow".  Drag a toothpick through the brow to create bleeding hearts.  Center 2 orange pearl candies for eyes.  Let dry.  Outline & flood orange wings and add pearl candies along the edges.  Flock the wings with fine sanding sugar while wet.  Let dry and brush off stray sugar crystals.  For bottom feathers, outline and flood with a mint-green base and add brown dots.  Drag a toothpick while the icing is still wet to create bleeding hearts.  Let dry.  Pipe a beak with black royal icing.

A grand Tom Turkey cookie is classic Americana.  Outline and flood the entire base with a yellow royal icing (I added a hint of orange to tone down the bright yellow) and let dry.  Pipe a bead of brown royal icing along the neck, head, breast & feet of the turkey.  Pipe beads of orange royal icing to delineate feathers.  Flock with fine sanding sugar.  Pipe orange dots along the bead of brown royal icing and don't forget to add an eye.

This Orangey Owl is simple in its design.  Outline and flood its head with orange royal icing and flock with fine sanding sugar.  Let dry completely, then brush off any stray sugar crystals.  Pipe eyes in mint green and add black pearl candies for pupils.  Add a beak with black royal icing.  For the wings, outline and flood with brown royal icing then add mint-green dots around the perimeter.  Drag a toothpick through the dots to create bleeding hearts while the icing is wet.  Add a mint-green neckline and a dark-green tail.

Le Brown Squirrel is adorable!  Outline and flood a small orange belly, then do the same for its body with brown royal icing.  Add an orange pearl candy for an eye.  Pipe a large tail with green royal icing and flock it with fine sanding sugar.  

The Sparkly Acorn cookie just fell off a cookie oak tree!  Outline and flood the acorn's cap in green royal icing, giving it a scalloped edge, and flock it with fine sanding sugar.  Let dry and brush off any stray sugar crystals.  Outline and flood the rest of the acorn in brown royal icing and flock the small tip in mini non pareils.  Add orange pearl candies around the scallops and let dry completely.  Voila!

 ✹ ✹ ✹

Don't hesitate for one moment to create your very own autumn critter cookies this weekend for Thanksgiving.  Lay out a platter of them or stack them onto those cake stands that you ardently collect.  Have cellophane bags at the ready and beautiful ribbons to tie up the cookie parcels. Take it from me, everyone is going to want one of your cookies at the end of the feast.  Make plenty of them!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Williams-Sonoma and St. Jude Children's Hospital

I am truly honored to be an integral part in the fundraising campaign at Williams-Sonoma for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital this December. The management at Williams-Sonoma have kindly asked me to host two cookie decorating events for customers on December 7th and December 14th, at the Ardmore, Pennsylvania location to benefit St. Jude Hospital.  

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is a leading center for pediatric cancer treatment & research in the United States.  Every December, Williams-Sonoma joins in the campaign to raise funds for the hospital by donating monies from the sales of select cooking and baking tools.  The moment I heard about this I immediately agreed to donate my time, expertise and my baked goods.  

The December 7th demo will cover Hanukkah cookie decorating for customers and the December 14th will encompass Christmas cookies.  With the help of a few generous friends, patrons at the Ardmore location who donate to St. Jude upon checkout, will receive a sugar cookie decorated by me!  No donation is too small and every single bit helps, so I encourage you to stop by and do your part in giving this holiday season.

Even if you're not near Ardmore, PA, shop online at Williams-Sonoma and find out how you can give to this worthy cause or donate directly to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  Spread the word!

Join me on December 7th & 14th, from 1pm-3pm, to enjoy delicious holiday cookies, learn how to decorate the best treats, shop for great kitchen tools, electrics and gadgets, and to give to a very worthy cause.  

Happy Holidays
Good Things by David

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pumpkin Hand Pies

Pumpkin hand pies are an easy alternative to the more traditional pies for Thanksgiving.  Growing up, mom would begin her pie baking as soon as Halloween came to an end and she would spoil us with mini pumpkin hand pies that were baked by the dozen.  Tucked into a Pyrex bowl covered with a towel, my brothers and I would steal them when she wasn't looking. Actually, I think she knew what we were up to, but since these were handmade with all-natural ingredients, mom didn't care how many we gobbled up.

It's been years since I've enjoyed one made by mom, so I took it upon myself to create a version that was true to her original.  I must admit that they weren't quite what I remember, but nonetheless they were impeccably light, flaky, spicy and truly delicious.  Imagine a pumpkin filling that is slightly sweet and lightly spiced, covered in a flaky crust that is mouthwateringly good.

My mini Pumpkin Hand Pies made their debut at the Williams-Sonoma demo this past week, much to the gratification of everyone who tried a sample. About six dozen samples were divvied up that day.  Not one scrap was left! I have to say that the funniest moment was when a 1-1/2 year old baby jumped up and down with joy as she was eating a sample given to her by her mother (you'll see a photo of her!).  What better seal of approval do you need?

Let's bake some Pumpkin Hand Pies!

Pumpkin Hand Pie Ingredients
  • 2 recipes The Best Pie Crust
  • 15 oz. [425 g.] canned pumpkin puree (not pie mix) 
  • 1/3 cup [80g.] packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon [2.5 ml.] ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon [1.25 ml.] ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon [pinch] ground cloves (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon [1.25 ml.] pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten (for egg wash)

Yield: enough filling for approximately 20 hand pies.

  1. Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator 15 minutes prior to rolling out. 
  2. With a rolling pin, on a lightly floured surface, gently roll out 1 disk of my pie crust 3 times in one direction.  Give the disk a 1/4 turn and roll out 3 times.  Repeat with quarter turns and with rolling out 3 times in one direction until the dough is 1/8" in thickness.  
  3. Using a 4-1/2” round cutter, cut out 4 rounds and set them aside on a parchment-lined or silpat-lined baking sheet.  Set scraps aside and repeat the rolling out and cutting out with remaining dough disks.  
  4. NOTE: each disk of dough will yield 4 rounds.  Gather scraps from 2 disks and reroll to cut out 4 additional rounds.  You should only reroll the scraps once.  This may cause the latter 4 hand pies to puff up like puff pastry, but no one will be complaining. 
  5. Fill each round with 1 tablespoon of pumpkin filling, centering the puree.   
  6. Lightly brush half of each circle with water and draw the other half of the dough to seal, creating half-moons.  Gently press the dough to seal.  You can either, crimp or flute the edges as desired.  
  7. Chill all mini pies for at least 30 minutes.  Filled pies can be frozen, well-wrapped, for up to one month.
  8. Preheat oven to 375° F (191°C).  Place oven racks on the lower third of oven.  
  9. Lightly brush each pie with the beaten egg.  Score each pie in one or two places to create vents.  Bake pies, 2” apart from each other on baking sheets, for approximately 20-30 minutes.  Pies should be golden when done.
  10. Let cool on racks.  Devour!  

Look at how well that pastry bakes.  You can see the layers of flakiness!

Kid tested & mother approved!

Pumpkin Hand Pies are among the easiest things to bake and without a doubt, they are perhaps the tastiest of desserts for Thanksgiving.  Create something new this season and put a smile on everyone's face with mini pies that are perfect to have with a cup of tea, some mulled cider or with a bit of coffee. Any which way you serve these little delicacies, as long as you make plenty no one will be fighting over who gets one.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Best Pie Crust

What is your idea of a good pie crust?  Some say it is one which is so flaky and tender that it shatters into numerous shards of delicate pastry when you cut into it.  Others may tell you that a good pie crust must have the unmistakable flavor of butter in order to be delicious.  For me, a good tart or pie crust must possess all of these essential qualities in order to meet with my approval for baking.  The good thing about pie crusts made from scratch is that they are not difficult in the least to prepare.  There is no need to settle for store bought once you've mastered the basics of pie crusts.

I've long been fascinated with pie crust recipes calling for the addition of vinegar, so in my quest to come up with my own recipe for Good Things by David, I searched as many as I could find, and I tested.  After consulting with my pastry chef mother on her opinion regarding eggs in pie crusts, she said that at least one egg is essential for a basic pie crust.  Mom goes on to say that if the crust is being used with a sweet filling, she would then enhance it further with a little bit of vanilla extract.  This is entirely optional!

What I did not want to add to this recipe was vegetable shortening (or lard), because I never stock it in my home.  I realize many people enjoy the flakiness that lard or shortening can bring to a pie crust, but if you work with cold butter and make the pastry quickly in a food processor, your pies & tarts will be just as flaky.  An all-butter pie crust is simply the best for any pie.  The technique is simple and the results are delicious. 

  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons), {226 grams} unsalted butter, cubed & chilled
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, chilled
  • 1 large egg, chilled
  • 4-5 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 3/4 cups {350 grams} all-purpose flour, chilled
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, chilled
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar, chilled
Yield: 1 1/2 lbs. of pie crust {700 grams};
 Two 10" pie crusts, enough for 1 double crust pie or 2 single crust pies or tarts.

Measure out your ingredients and chill them in the refrigerator until you are ready to make this recipe.  Thoroughly chilling the flour, salt, sugar, egg, vinegar and butter will give you the results you desire in a perfect pie crust.  I know many bakers who even chill the bowl & blade of the food processor (a good tip if your kitchen is warm).  
In the bowl of your food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the floursalt & sugar.  Pulse 2-3 times to combine them thoroughly.

Add the cubed butter and scatter it evenly into the work bowl.  I always cube my butter ahead of time and chill it completely before making pastry rather than adding whole sticks into the dry ingredients.  Doing this will allow the butter to disperse into small bits quickly, without warming up the ingredients.

Pulse the butter a few times (DO NOT let the machine run) until the butter begins to break up.

At this point, you want your pastry to be coarse and seem sandy; you should still be able to see bits of butter.  In a small bowl, whisk the egg and cider vinegar together and slowly drizzle it into the feed tube of the machine, pulsing as you go.  This should take about 3-4 quick pulses.

Have your ice cold water ready and slowly pour it into the feed tube, pulsing in short bursts as you go.  Pay very close attention to what's going on in the food processor bowl.  When you begin to notice the pastry changing texture and resembling wet sand, stop the machine and check.

Grab a bit of pastry and squeeze it in the palm of your hand.  Does it clump together and resemble this?  If so, you're done.  You may not need all of the water.  When making pastry, a lot will depend on the conditions of your kitchen.  If it's humid, the pastry may only need 4 tablespoons of water.

A good pie dough will clump together when squeezed, but will still be crumbly.  You do not want a sticky dough that feels tacky and wet.  
Quickly divide the dough in half among overlapping pieces of plastic wrap.  Gather the ends of the wrap and draw them into the center, pushing down into the pastry.  You want to form a disk rather than a ball of dough.

This is what you want to end up with.  Two perfectly formed pieces of pastry ready to get placed into the refrigerator before being rolled out.  The dough can chill in the refrigerator for up to one day, but can be frozen for up to one month (place these wrapped pieces of pie crust into a larger zip top freezer bag for protection against freezer burn; thaw overnight in the refrigerator).

Freshly made pie crust and all pastry must be chilled completely for at least one hour before being rolled out.
As I said, this will make approximately 1 1/2 lbs. or 700 grams of pastry.  I like to weigh each half to make sure my crusts are even.

When you roll out this dough you'll notice that it doesn't tear.  It's a good pie crust.

When it bakes, the crust becomes golden and irresistibly tender.  When you take a bite, it's exactly what you want to experience from a good pie crust.  The photo of those mini hand pies was taken at the demonstration I did at Williams Sonoma.  I must have handed out 6 dozen or more samples of this baked pie crust and every single individual that took a bite claimed it to be "the best pie crust".  That recipe for the mini pumpkin hand pies is coming soon!

I want every baker to try this recipe because it is one you will hopefully turn to again and again.  Suitable for fruit pies, custard pies, hand pies, tarts & quiches, my pie crust will give you success in the kitchen and will make you a fan of homemade pie crusts.  Never again will you turn to the refrigerated section of your supermarket & buy those packages of premade crusts or those frozen shells meant to be filled and baked.  With a bit of preparation and planning, several crusts can be made quickly and easily at home, and get frozen until needed.  Bake a pie soon and partake of delicious, flaky pastry made from my home to yours.  Enjoy!