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Pie: Portland

7 Dec

Happy Holidays, everyone! All in all, the Thanksgiving baking was a success and lots of fun. Had a blast making three pies and a batch of sesame rolls (my first attempt at a yeast roll, as opposed to yeast bread).

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For the big day, I made a traditional Libby’s pumpkin pie, but I did add some black pepper and nutmeg, which the original recipe doesn’t call for, to give the filling some extra flavor (a la Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pie).

The crust turned out well, but darn it, I baked it too long again, and it cracked horribly down the middle. Hence, pecans to the rescue! It looks like I almost meant to decorate it that way.

The sweet sesame rolls were an Associated Press recipe I saw in Foodday. They were super simple and delicious. Having never made yeast rolls before (IMO cinnamon rolls don’t count), I wasn’t sure what to expect, but these seemed foolproof. Highly recommend for their crunchy texture and subtle nutty flavor.

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The day before Thanksgiving, I took these two pies to the office (something I do every year). Typically, I pick something traditional and something experimental. This year, I picked cranberry-apple with a crumb topping and maple-walnut. The walnut was almost like a pecan pie, with its gooey center, but I have to admit that I favored the fruit pie. Both recipes from the always-reliable “Pie.”


Deep-dish apple tart: Portland

5 Oct

Well, it appears I started this post months ago and forgot to finish it. (Rats!) So, much delayed though it is, I present my attempt at an Amsterdam-style apple tart. All in all, I’d say it turned out pretty well for a first attempt.

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Used a combination of apples, including golden delicious and probably gala (honestly, it’s been too long).


Love how cut butter looks before being blended with sugar.

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The key, it seems, is dough that’s sturdy enough to hold up in a pie crust-like shape, yet dense enough to be fluffy like cake.

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Apples and cinnamon: no better combo

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A little egg wash before baking

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The top came out wonderfully browned

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Not quite the same texture as the piece we ate in Amsterdam, but it was well received at the office and is probably the best-looking baked good I’ve ever made (and mine usually aren’t so aesthetically pleasing), so I’ll call it a victory for Upfish.

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Challenge: Apple tart a la Amsterdam

12 Jan

Here it is, in all its glory, the Amsterdam apple tart. Part cake, part pie, amazingly delicious. Hannah and I loved this so much on our trip to Amsterdam that we went back to Winkel on our last night in town to try it again. Perfect dessert.

Amsterdam apple tart


So, without further ado, it’s time for us to try making our own.

Here are two recipes I found last year that could guide us to a terrific tart.

Solo projects: Fall baking in Portland

9 Nov

Happy Fall, everyone! It’s been a busy October and early November. After taking some time off during the summer (something about using a hot oven when it’s above 80 degrees just doesn’t seem right), I’ve jumped back into the delights of baking. And so far, I’ve made one of the fall baked goods I had on my list.

Here are three highlights from the last few weeks:

I finally tried making Bon Appetit’s butterscotch pie with curry crust. It was surprisingly delicious and well-received at a coworker get-together. (I’ve also come to a realization about my taste for fennel: only in baked goods and only when toasted or crushed to disarm the flavor.) The crust combines vanilla wafers, curry powder and toasted fennel seeds. Its savory taste plays amazingly well off the super-sweet butterscotch filling, which is nothing more than a caramel custard with gelatin. All dressed up with whipped cream and cashews, I couldn’t have hoped for a prettier pie.


For Halloween, I couldn’t resist reprising the pumpkin gingerbread recipe Hannah and I made a few years ago. This year, my mom sent me a combo cookie cutter-stamp set for making GingerDEAD men, so naturally I had to try these out. My frosting technique could use some practice, but they tasted great and weren’t too crunchy. Just the right amount of cakey texture, which is how I prefer gingerbread cookies. The recipe calls for pumpkin pie spice, and I tried an experimental mixture of my own this year. Basically, I adapted the recipes from The Kitchn, whose baking and cooking tutorials I adore, and My Baking Addiction, while adding some cardamom instead of mace. I’ll always make my own from now on. Couldn’t be simpler.

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Armed with quite a bit of leftover icing from the gingerdead men, I decided that hot cross buns would be the perfect way to use the extra. On Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day, my mother would often make us “saint cakes,” which are actually just hot cross buns. They’re typically more associated with Easter and Lent than All Saint’s Day, but the two baked goods are pretty similar. Plus, these ones are a yeast bread, which makes them extra flavorful. Egg wash always gives these such a lovely sheen.

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With the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap getting underway this month and Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I’m sure to spend more time in the kitchen on everything from cookies to pies. Figuring out which recipes to use will be the hard part, but I’ll keep you posted on all my November baking adventures.

Pie picks: Belated Pi Day links

5 Apr

Ritz pie crust

I’m only a few weeks late, but for the sake of cataloging some of the best links I stumbled across, here goes.

More than a just number: A Washington Post blog reminds us that Pi Day is also Einstein’s Birthday and that pi is a ratio of the diameter and circumference of a circle. Not as if I needed an excuse, but what better reason to celebrate than with a circular pie?

What a holiday: A Portland freelance writer says that without a complicated past like other holidays, Pi Day should appeal to all. And with a recipe for a blueberry-orange pie, I can’t say I disagree.

Why pi really matters: A Slate piece charts the political history of Pi Day (it’s an official U.S. holiday), the mathematical  history of the number and the scientific significance of the ratio. The true meaning of pi, what it means for physics and explains about the natural world, should get more credit than we give it, says author Joseph Mazur.

Apple pie science: A New York Times graphic outlines the principles behind the recipes, including why we poke holes in a pie before baking and why we let pies cool before eating them.

Tips and tricks: The blog team at Science and Food present 10 things to know about baking pies, including how to make a crispy, brown crust and how chemistry can help explain the process (post originally found here).

Four pies: Portland (and Bozeman)

5 Apr



Dino apple pie

Well, during my far-too-long Cats and Commas hiatus, I’ve actually been baking quite a bit. Every holiday, birthday, etc., is a reason to share a baked good, and I take almost every opportunity possible.

Above is a collaboration apple pie that Hannah and I made together while visiting our friends in Montana in January. We didn’t follow a recipe per se, but we did use a standard all-butter crust and a standard filling of apples, lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon. One of the highlights of the trip, aside from the board games and microbrews, was our visit to the Museum of the Rockies, where we were gifted these fabulous dinosaur cookie cutters.

We served this pie a la mode, with Graham Slam ice cream, and, yes, it was as good as it looks (not even close to a humble brag). Also, for those of you science nerds, Hannah shared this excellent apple pie graphic a while back, which explains the science behind a great pie.

Ritz cracker pie

On the other side of the apple pie spectrum, for the Super Bowl I tried a mock apple pie, made with nothing but Ritz crackers, water, lemon  juice, sugar, cinnamon and cream of tartar (which I assume helps with the texture). A creation of the Depression era, when fresh foods were likely scarce and processed foods were likely cheaper, the Super Bowl-watchers who ate this pie without knowing what was in it were convinced it was regular old apple.

And, by accident, my crust turned out looking like a giant version of a Ritz cracker.

Ritz mock apple pie

The interior certainly had the gooey texture of an apple pie, just without the apple chunks. It was a bit on the sweet side for my taste, but it was an interesting experiment with a unique historical past. The recipe I used came from the cookbook “Pie,” a volume with hundreds of recipes, bits of history and techniques.

mini greek yogurt honey pie

For Eileen’s birthday in mid-February, I made mini-Greek yogurt and honey pies, which we’ve made before as a previous Cats and Commas challenge. Whipped cream, gelatin and Greek yogurt (chilled in the fridge) top a graham cracker crust, and it’s a delicate, delicious combination. For these, I used mini-springform pans, which are quite handy for individual servings.


My most recent pie creation was in honor of Pi Day on March 14, which I’ll write a separate post about to share some links from around the Web. For this pie, I decided on a “use-what’s-in-your-pantry” philosophy, which led to vanilla cream pie with a graham cracker crust and meringue. The meringue only makes sense for using up your leftover egg whites, because the pie filling calls for the same amount of egg yolks that you need (recipe also from “Pie”).

This was a hit at work, where we had a buffet of different varieties to choose from, including a tasty, cookie-like pie that’s different than any I’ve tried before. For lack of a better descriptor, I assume the recipe is something like this.

It’s no coincidence that each month in 2014 has featured pie as a highlight. I hardly need an excuse to make one, but then again, Easter is only a couple weeks away.


Solo project: Holiday pies

27 Dec

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For Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I made four pies: three pumpkin and one berry (an experiment!). 

First, the experimental cranberry pie. I combined a couple recipes: Bon Appetit’s cherry-bourbon pie and a blueberry pie from AllRecipes. Here’s what I used: 1) old-fashioned butter pie crust; 2) cranberries, orange juice, orange zest, corn starch and cherry brandy for the filling; 3) oatmeal, brown sugar and butter for the topping. The orange juice tempered the tartness of the cranberries quite nicely, but the filling turned out a bit too runny. Probably a combination of not cooking for long enough + not using enough corn starch + too much orange juice/brandy.

For the pumpkin pies, I used my tried-and-true Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pie recipe from Yankee Magazine. But each one I made did something different (read: didn’t look as good as I’d hoped).

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Here’s one before it went in the oven.


And this is how it turned out. I’d say this one was the most successful. I’ve learned the trick to crimping is to try to stand the crust on the edge and forcefully pinch so the crust will hold its shape in a 400-degree oven.

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This one looks hideous, but that’s because I baked it way too long (lesson learned). The knife inserted in the center trick doesn’t always work. The sign it’s done baking is if the middle is wobbly but not too much. I’m also convinced that taking a pie out of a hot oven and into a cold house somehow contributes to cracking. I’ll be sure to tent these with foil next time.

christmas pumpkin pie

And last but not least, my Christmas pie (which sunk in the middle and cracked!). As you can see, the quality and consistency vary immensely from one pie to the next. But they tasted great, and that’s what matters, right? The presentation isn’t perfect, but I’ll keep trying for pie perfection.