off the charts flaky pie dough with vodka – redux

so, i first heard about the vodka pie crust thing in the fall of 2008 when i was still working at the bakery. my lovely and oh, so dear colleague at the time, sefania, arrived one morning raving about a cooks illustrated pumpkin pie with a vodka crust that she had baked and brought to a dinner party the night before. now, i’m going to bastardize the story a bit here, but somehow mark bittman heard about her pie (maybe someone who was at the dinner party, with stefania, worked with him?) and long story short, a few weeks later, there was a post on the nyt diner’s journal blog about stefania’s pie (or, more accurately, about how her pie had influenced the writer of the post). and the vodka pie dough phenomenon was forever etched in my brain.however, despite the fact that i’ve known about the joys of substituting vodka for a portion of the liquid in one’s pie dough for the last 6 years (and truth be told, cooks illustrated actually first published their vodka pie dough recipe a year earlier, in november of 2007), it took me until three weeks ago to actually try it. spurned on by my non-baking husband, of all people (he heard a story about the dough on npr), i decided to try using vodka, instead of cider vinegar, in my off the charts flaky pie dough. my thinking was two-fold: a) the vodka might make the dough easier to roll out (my recipe produces a pretty tender dough, due to the pastry flour, copious amounts of butter, and not alot of liquid, and it has been known to tear on occasion) and, b) if the vodka thing in the pie dough was coming back to me all these years later via my husband, it was probably a sign. read more

chocolate whoopie pies

yup: it’s a chocolate whoopie pie-post and i know what you’re thinking. i get it that they’re totally kind of last year, but here’s the thing: i love them – which makes sense in light of the fact that a) i am a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting fanatic; and, b) back in the day i was all about a hostess suzy-q or a drakes devil dog, two very whoopie-ish packaged-treats from my late 70s/80s childhood. moreover, even when my whoopie-love has been tested, i’ve remained steadfast. (ie: while working at baked, i always opted to celebrate my bday with a chocolate whoopie pie (or several), even when offered any cake of my choosing).funnily enough, despite my deep affection for chocolate whoopie pies, i hadn’t really thought about developing my own recipe for them until this past summer. i was visiting with one of my husband’s brothers, when he described making the most amazing whoopie pies with my mother-in-law (aka nonnie), when he was little. i recalled that i had nonnie’s recipe for said whoopies, stashed in my folder at home, and using it as my jumping off point, went to work on some whoopie pie-reconnaissance soon after. not surprisingly, my initial recon unearthed my mother-in-law’s whoopie pie recipe here, on the internet. since my intention was to tweak and fiddle anyway, i was nonplussed by the discovery, and tweaking began in earnest. read more

apple sheet cake (or loaves)

apple sheet cakes x2

i actually baked my first apple cake about 7 years ago. and i mean cake: not crumble or pie or some kind of brown betty-thing (nothing against brown betties, by the way – my mom has been making them for forever and i am a huge fan). no, i made cake – this cake to be exact and it was good, but not life-changing. of course, while working for matt and nato i baked a lot of their apple cake, and assisted in getting it “book-ready/home-cook accessible” by testing it before it made its way into baked explorations. but their particular apple cake is apple sauce-based, and i’m  here to tell you about apple cake that is made apple-y with chunks of apple coated in sugar and cinnamon (much like pie). read more

berry scones

the berry scone thing happened when i stumbled upon this. not even sure what i was searching for that day – certainly not a scone recipe, seeing as scones weren’t really my thing at the time. maybe i was just perusing the web in search of inspiration. who knows. long story short, when i clicked on the above post, and saw the photograph of the sugar crusted scones bursting with blackberries, my interest was piqued. i have a bit of a blackberry thing, maybe that’s why. so i made the scones once and thought they were pretty insane. i then proceeded to make them about a billion times (i’m a creature of habit after all – when i find a good thing, i have trouble letting it go). i made them for basically anyone and everyone who walked through my door (this is easier than it sounds if you’re partial to freezing pre-baked goodies, as i am want to do). after making, freezing and baking batch a-billion-and-one, however, it occurred to me, that maybe i should develop my own scone recipe (not a bad thing to have in one’s repertoire).when i develop a recipe inspired by another’s (in case anyone is curious), i begin by thinking about what i want to change about the ingredients and technique, and what i want to keep the same. the inspirational blackberry scone recipe includes two sticks of butter, and i knew i didn’t want to mess with that. but making biscuits with self-rising flour (all purpose flour with baking powder and salt already added) was already on my to-do-list, in light of my fondness for these, and i figured scones with said flour might be nice, too. a little internet research (ie: here and here) revealed that the combo of self-rising flour, plus additional leavening produces a scone with real lift. i was on board with lift. so with my fat and my flour figured out, i turned to the question of liquid. the recipe that got me all scone-crazy in the first place called for buttermilk, but i thought creme fraiche would be mighty tasty, producing a bit of tang, plus tenderness (full disclosure: i did end up whisking in some heavy cream along with the creme fraiche to loosen it up just a bit).and i added just the tiniest bit more liquid than is called for in the original for technique, although tempted to friasage the scone dough à la Rose Levy Berenbaum (page 359), and as i do in my off the charts flaky pie dough recipe, i decided to use my fingers to incorporate the butter into the flour instead. but i used frozen butter, rather than very cold, to compensate for the warmth of my hands (yes, this takes a bit of muscle, but not SO much that you’ll be mad at me for it). i also manhandled the dough a bit, to aid it in coming together (very bad etiquette for most scone doughs, but trust me: this one can handle it).finally,i must say i found this extremely helpful during the development process, as its “ten basic scone formulas” was super informative and directed me to several books (already on my shelves) with interesting scone recipes, such as this and this, as well as a myriad of worth-while scone-related posts on the internet. so, here is my recipe for an uber-buttery scone with tons of “lift,” a bit of a tang, a deliciously crusty exterior and the most perfect, not too cakey/not too dry/crumbly crumb. and here’s to hoping you’ll bake them about a billion times. read more