Baking Weather and Browned Butter Apple Pie

I'm so happy to welcome back Fall, mainly because everyone knows Fall is Baking Season.  To me it is not a coincidence that this time of year is when we harvest apples.  Time for apple pie.

A few years ago I went on a mission to find the very best apple pie recipe out there.  As with brownies, there are a million recipes (hence, The Brownie Project) and I needed only the very best.  Unless you're Mari or my grandmother Alice, pies aren't easy to make, so why waste time making one that's anything less than off the charts amazing?

Mari makes amazing pie crust... mine, not so much.  So please don't judge me for using a refrigerated crust.  Someday I'll hone my crust making skills, but for now, I have two children under the age of four.

I asked the internet to find me an easy to make, amazing apple pie.  My search turned up something intriguing - Browned Butter Apple Pie.  Adding butter to apple pie sounded like a great idea to me, and I liked that it called for just one crust.  This enables one package of two crusts to become two pies, which by my calculations is always better than one pie.

My friend Audrey had some of this pie when I made for one of our weekly Girls Nights, and confessed to me six months later she couldn't stop thinking about it.  Oh, Audge.

Pretty good lookin' stuff, right?

Here's what you're going to need.  It's a Pillsbury recipe, so that's probably why it calls for their pie crust.  I'm so in love with the end result I don't even mind the self-promotion.

Let's make some pie.

1/4 cup butter 
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 cups sliced peeled organic Granny Smith apples (5 medium)

1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup firm butter

Heat oven to 400°F Place cookie sheet in oven to heat. In 1-quart saucepan, cook 1/4 cup butter over medium heat, stirring constantly, until melted and lightly browned. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.

In large bowl, beat 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the egg with wire whisk until light and fluffy. Beat in 2 tablespoons flour and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat in cooled butter. Gently stir in apples. Pour into crust-lined pan.

In medium bowl, stir together all streusel ingredients except butter. With pastry blender or fork, cut in 1/4 cup butter until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over apples. Place pie on cookie sheet in oven.

Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and cover edge of crust with strips of foil or pie crust shield (I use Grandma Alice's.  Functional and full of good-pie-making-mojo) to prevent excessive browning. Bake 40 to 50 minutes longer or until apples are tender and crust is golden brown. Cool 2 hours.

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Bourbon Bing Cherries

Planning ahead and waiting around are the names of my game right now.

I've been keeping the laundry done and the house clean so that when we have to leave at any moment for the hospital for baby number two, things won't be a disaster when we come home.  I've been freezing soup, buying extra pantry staples, and trying to use up perishables from the fridge.

Or at least that's my excuse for making a batch of Bourbon Bing Cherries.  Planning ahead.  They have to steep in the fridge for at least a week, and they've been in there since last Monday.

King's Hardware posted a picture of giant jars of their housemade bourbon cherries on their facebook page a few weeks back, and I just happened to have a few pounds of cherries in the fridge.  Not all of them were used for the clafoutis, so my course of action was clear...

I used Bulleit Bourbon, and needed just a little more liquid since there wasn't quite a cup left in the bottle, so I grabbed this stuff:

Catdaddy Moonshine.  It's spiced, and from what I smelled, will be a perfect addition to the mix.  I did not yet taste the liquid or the final product, but my money's on good stuff.

Bourbon Bing Cherries

1/2 lb of cherries, washed
1 c bourbon
1/4 c brown sugar
a lidded, glass jar

1.  Combine bourbon or other liquor with brown sugar in a small, heavy saucepan.  Heat slowly until hot.  Don't boil or you'll kill some of your alcohol - heaven forbid!

2.  Warm jar with hot water from tap or in dishwasher.  Cram full of cherries.

3.  Slowly pour hot alcohol over cherries.  Push cherries down so they are submerged.

4.  Steep in fridge for a minimum of one week.  Cherries will keep for up to three months.  Maybe more, but we will probably never know since they'll all be eaten well before then.

Cherries can be pitted and de-stemmed or left as is.

I can't wait to try these cherries in a Maker's Manhattan - homemade bourbon cherry definitely trumps mass-produced maraschino.  The liquid should be tasty enough to serve on the rocks, or with a bit of soda water.

Bon Maman jam jars make a cute container for these!  Did someone do you a huge favor recently?  Thank them with Bourbon Bing Cherries.  Who wouldn't love to find a jar of these on their doorstep?

How will you use your Bourbon Bings??  Thank you gifts or hoard for self?

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Bing Cherry Clafoutis

Oh my holy hell.

That is exactly what I said when I pulled this clafoutis out of the oven and the absolutely decadent, buttery smell rushed out of the oven straight into my face.

I had my first taste of clafoutis at a cooking class taught by Chef Peter Birk, who was with Ray's Boathouse at the time.  His recipe (adapted from Pierre Raboul's recipe) called for concord grapes, but he substituted bing cherries.  Cherries, I'm told, are the traditional fruit for clafoutis, and fortunately here in the Northwest we have some of the finest cherries available.

I will never make clafoutis with grapes after having it with cherries.  In addition to not having to peel grapes, cherry and almond go together so effortlessly.  This simple and straightforward cake is a perfect showcase for the combination.

Get yourself some of these lovely little local jewels before they're gone again, and make some clafoutis.  It's a great dessert to serve company (just make sure you've made enough), and can easily be made gluten free by opting for the hazelnut substitution over cookie crumbs.  

My grandmother's cherry pitter.  I really recommend getting one of these if you're going to pit cherries even once a year. Not only does it make removing the pits easy, but you can actually aim and fire the pit a pretty good distance with the thing, just slightly more refined than spitting them.  Leaving the pits in your cherries for clafoutis actually produces a more concentrated flavor as the cherries bake, and this is the traditional way to make it.  

Bing Cherry Clafoutis

Adapted by Chef Peter Birk from Pierre Raboul

8 T unsalted butter, softened
1 lb bing cherries, washed and pitted
1 c confectioner's sugar, plus 1 T
1 3/4 c almond flour or finely ground almonds
2 T cookie crumbs or chopped hazelnuts
pinch salt
2 eggs
1/4 c heavy cream

1.  Oven to 350.  Grease a 9" cake pan with the butter wrapper.

2.  In an electric stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter.  Add 1 cup confectioner's sugar and beat til incorporated.  Beat in almond flour, cookie crumbs or nuts, and salt.

3.  In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and cream.  Gradually add to butter mixture while mixing on medium speed.  Beat until just smooth.

4.  Transfer batter to prepared cake pan.  Spoon cherries and any accumulated juices over batter.  Sift remaining tablespoon of sugar over cake.

5.  Bake until golden and firm in center, 50 minutes.  Let cool before serving.

The cherries sink and almost disappear during baking.

Fresh out of the oven.

The three of us ate half of it immediately, and the other half was excellent for breakfast the next morning.  Someone who shall remain nameless might or might not have a bit for a midnight snack, too.

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The Brownie Project: Round Two

The next contender in the Brownie Project is Gold Medal Flour's Fudge Brownies recipe from their children's cookbook, Alpha-Bakery.  A lot of people swear by Gold Medal cookbooks, so I figured this would be a good one to try.  Natalie got the book for her birthday, along with a bunch of other cute baking things, and she was happy to offer it up for testing.

She was also really glad we were making brownies again.

This recipe turned out to be quite interesting.  It's a one-pot (yes, pot!) recipe, in which the bakers melt chocolate chips and add ingredients to the pot after it's off the heat.  Many of the steps are very easy for children to assist.  And, for God's sake, they got the pan size right!

Slightly suspect, however, is their recommendation to cut an 8x8 sized pan of brownies into twenty.  Twenty?  How about eight?  Twelve at the absolute most.  

Also, the recipe calls for a 6 oz package of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I have never, ever seen a 6 oz bag.  And then the recipe also calls for another cup of chips (not another 6 oz package?) to be sprinkled over the top.  Why the change up in units?  Is it something to do with the melting part?  I honestly don't know, do any of you?


F is for Fudge Brownies

1/4 c of margarine or butter (naturally, we used butter)
1 package (6 oz) of chocolate chips (um.  Eyeball half of your 12 oz bag)
3/4 c of sugar
2/3 c Gold Medal all purpose flour
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
1/2 c chopped nuts, if you like (we didn't)
1/2 c chocolate chips, if you like (we did)

1.  Heat the oven to 350.

2. Grease the bottom only of an 8x8x2 square pan with shortening (we used butter since we had the buttery wrapper already in hand)

3.  Heat butter and 1 package chocolate chips (that's a 6 oz package, folks!) in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted; remove from heat.  Stir in remaining ingredients except nuts and 1/2 c chocolate chips real hard (technical term there) with a wooden spoon until smooth.

4.  Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.  Spread in pan with a rubber scraper.

5.  Bake until the center is set, about 30 minutes.  Let brownies cool completely, then cut into 1 3/4 x 1 1/2 inch brownies.  Makes 20 brownies.

We decided to pre-mix our "remaining ingredients" before adding them to the melted chocolate chips, mainly so that Natalie could have the fun of dumping and stirring at a safe distance from the gas stove.
We also decided to sprinkle the "1/2 c chocolate chips" over the top of the batter once it was in the pan.

OFFICIAL VERDICT: F is for Fudge Brownies from Gold Medal Flour's Alpha-Bakery cookbook

3 out of 5

One pot (but we added a bowl), very easy to involve children.  But - too sweet (no really!) and not nearly chocolatey enough.  They are almost like blondies.  Even the extra chocolate chips on top didn't correct the lack of chocolate in the batter.  Consistency was fudgy and good, and the thickness was right.

Next up:  Disgustingly Rich Brownies from our friend Abby Taylor's favorite childhood cookbook.

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The Brownie Project: Round One

A few weeks ago, we got a real hankering for brownies at Ellie Bluebell's House.  Okay, maybe it was just me wanting them, but once I mentioned the idea of making some brownies to Natalie, she wanted them really bad, too.

I started looking for a recipe.  We just happened to have grabbed a book at the library on our last visit, Sesame Street B is for Baking: 50 Yummy Dishes to Make Together.  Sure enough, there was a brownie recipe in it.  "Elmo's Best Brownies In The West" sounded very promising.  Elmo wouldn't lie to us about his brownies being the best, would he?

So Natalie donned the darling apron she got for her birthday, and we got down to business.  The recipe was easy and pretty straightforward.  You can see much of it in this picture.  However, it will not be reprinted here because I was so frustrated with the results the book went straight back to the library before I realized I needed the recipe for blog purposes.  I can get a little rash when it comes to food, and especially when it comes to baked goods.

We had a great time mixing and measuring and we substituted the recipe's olive oil for applesauce, which made me worry they would be too sweet.  Alas, I needn't have worried.

My first clue that this recipe was going to disappoint was the pan size recommended: 9x13.  I could tell by looking at the quantity of ingredients that it was going to yield sadly flat, thin brownies.  Is there anything sadder than a flat brownie?  Maybe it's just me, but I like mine nearly cubic.  Think Rubic's Cube in size and stature.  Fat, tall and gooey, please!

But I went with the recipe's recommendation, just to test it.  After they baked, Natalie and I sat down and each had one.  She seemed quite happy, but other than the fact that we had just baked together without destroying the kitchen or each other, I was not pleased.  They were not very sweet (despite the applesauce substitution) and quite cakey (probably because of the applesauce substitution).

Pan size is wrong.  Did Elmo even test this recipe before the book came out?


But - if you like your brownies cakey, thin, and not very sweet, by all means try dumb old Elmo's recipe.  Get the book from the library in case you hate it.  If you end up with the copy we had you can see the comments I angrily added to the recipe with my fine-point Sharpie.  I expect to have my library card revoked any day now.

With all the brownie recipes out there in the world, I thought, 'what's the best one?'  Since everyone likes their brownies a bit different, you can't just go by star ratings on allrecipes.  No.  For us to find our very favorite brownie recipe in the whole world, we were going to have to make lots and lots and lots of brownies.

And thus, the Brownie Project was born.  Natalie and I decided we'd make a different recipe each week, to find our favorite.  We promise not to make any further substitutions so as to preserve the integrity of each recipe.  (But if I come across olive oil in any other recipes I might have to make an exception.  Seriously, olive oil?  Hork)

Stay tuned, and we'll soldier on bravely until we find the one that is best!  Best to us, anyway.  If you have a favorite you'd like to submit for the Project, please share it!

ROUND ONE OFFICIAL VERDICT: Elmo's Best Brownies in the West from Sesame Street B is for Baking

1 out of 5

Sadly thin and cakey.  Not sweet enough.  High marks from a motivational aspect, however, because they were so bad that this project was created.  Elmo, we would appreciate if you actually tested your recipes before you put out a book.

And, you know, it's not like we threw the brownies away.  They were eaten.  We do not waste food at Ellie Bluebell's House.

Next up: Fudge Brownies from Gold Medal Flour's Alpha Bakery Children's Cookbook.


Edamame Fried Rice and Teriyaki Sauce

I hate to waste food.  Hate it.  My tendency to remake leftovers into "new" dishes wears on my husband a bit, since not all of my creations are good ones.  He also distrusts leftovers in general - I've heard stories about when he was a child and they'd eat the same giant pot of something for days on end.

I can understand where his mom was coming from with the cooking in bulk, but I also see his point.  You gotta mix things up.

Every now and then I make something from leftovers that is different enough from the original thing that it can't even be classified as leftovers.  Fried rice falls into this category, and it's a great dish to serve alongside baked tofu or teriyaki salmon to round out a meal.  With the edamame it can even stand on its own as a one dish meal.

Edamame Fried Rice

1 T coconut oil
2 cups leftover cooked rice
2 T soy sauce, tamari, or Dr Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids
2 T teriyaki sauce (optional, recipe follows)
1/2 c chopped carrots
1/4 c frozen peas
1/4 c shelled edamame
2 eggs
3 green onions, sliced

In a large heavy skillet, heat coconut oil over medium high heat.  Add rice, soy sauce, and teriyaki sauce.  Cook about 5 minutes, until rice is no longer chunky and absorbs some of the soy sauce/teriyaki sauce.

Stir in carrots, peas, and edamame, cook another 5 minutes.

Push rice and veggies to the sides of the skillet, leaving a round hole in the center.  Add a bit of coconut oil to the hole, allow to heat.  Pour in gently beaten eggs and cook without stirring for 2 minutes.  Scramble eggs gently within hole.  After eggs have mostly set (about 2 minutes), stir rice and eggs all together.

Stir in green onions, and serve.

This teriyaki sauce recipe was shown to me in college by my friend Jasmine.  It's so simple, and a good recipe to have in your toolkit since bottled teriyaki sauce is so expensive.  You can simmer lots of other things in it to give it different flavors: minced garlic, red pepper flakes, minced fresh ginger.

It makes a great marinade and sauce for the baked tofu shown above, and is absolutely fabulous on grilled pineapple.

Basic Teriyaki Sauce

1 part soy sauce
1 part sugar (1 c of each is about the minimum to use)

Combine in small sauce pan over medium heat.  Stir well.  Simmer until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes.  Sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.

Thank you Jasmine!

What's Cooking: 5.20 - 5.26

Miracles are happening.  Above is this week's menu.  As in the current menu.

Monday - linguine with clam sauce.  Make yourself some!  Served with apple blue cheese salad and broccoli.  Two veggies - bam.

Tuesday - brisket sandwiches from the giant slab of meat that was smoked this weekend.  Fries and salad.

Wednesday - edamame fried rice, baked tofu, and sesame ginger salad.

Thursday - dinner out.  Subway, to be exact.  I have been addicted to their Veggie Patty on a salad for years.  It looks like dog food but it's tasty and vegetarian.  

Friday - pizza party, with salad and raspberry hot fudge sundaes.  I came across Santa Cruz Organic Raspberry Chocolate Sauce at Grocery Outlet and am so glad I got it... we've been loving it on coconut sorbet with fresh raspberries!

Saturday - camping.

Sunday - ribollita (vegetable stew, "reboiled" in Italian), garlic toasts.  Hoping to post about the soup soon.

Let's see if I can keep up this current momentum with posting the weekly menus.  Stay tuned!

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