Pizza Rustica

One of my earliest memories is of spending time in the kitchen as a toddler, holding onto my mother’s leg while she cooked. I remember the soft denim of her jeans, the comfort of moving around the room with her as she quietly worked. The kitchen was a peaceful place, calm, with none of the electronics fiascoes or juggling acts that have cropped up in my single-countered, closet-sized apartment kitchen.

I wasn’t much older when the ritual began: tying on my mother’s white apron, with “La Creme de La Creme” screened across the front in red stencil letters, dragging one of our white plastic kitchen chairs over to the counter to help. And while helping my mother measure ingredients and stir dough was fun, making a delicacy start to finish without adult supervision was even better. There was the “Waldorf-Astoria Chocolate Cake” my mother had baked in a heart-shaped tin for my fifth birthday; when I was six, I decided it would be a great idea to duplicate it, in cahoots with my good friend Sarah and my three-year-old brother Micah. My mother, conveniently napping, awoke to a kitchen floor dusted with flour. No recollection of how the cake actually turned out.

After a few years of basics - cookies, cheese omelets, macaroni - my mother’s gourmet cookbooks beckoned. The Vegetarian Epicure, 70s vegetarianism in all its buttered, cheesy, eggy glory, opened up the world of European cuisine.  One night, in my teens, I made Pizza Rustica for our family’s dinner. Pizza wrapped up in a butter-based pie crust proved to be almost illegally delicious, somewhat more gourmet than a classic pizza pie, yet down-home and accessible to make. My grandmother, who had given the cookbook to my parents as a gift back in the 70s, had wanted to tear out the page in the introduction that featured the following gem: “If you have passed around a joint before dinner to sharpen gustatory preparations, you will most likely pass another one after dinner, and everyone knows what that will do - the blind munchies can strike at any time.” But the only gustatory preparation you’ll need for this deep-dish pie is the rich, savory scent -  herbed tomato, three cheeses, and a browning crust - that wafts from the oven as the baking time draws to a close.

This recipe has been submitted to the November Monthly Mingle, hosted by The Well-Seasoned Cook, with a theme of pot pies. Thanks to our host for your organization and inspiration!

Pizza Rustica

Adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas

~Yield: 1 deep-dish 9 1/2” pie~

Notes: Author Anna Thomas advises making the crust with marsala rather than the usual ice water. We had a bottle of cabernet hanging out in our fridge, so I used that. It added a marvelous depth of flavor to the crust. Feel free to swap out the olives and bell pepper for any pizza toppings you like - I’m planning to try mushrooms next.

Pastry crust

~Yield: 2 crusts~

2 cups flour (I used 1 cup white and 1 cup white whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
lemon juice
1 to 3 tablespoons chilled marsala, red wine, or ice water

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and toss with the flour, using your hands, two knives, or a pastry cutter, until it all looks like coarse corn meal. Add a few drops of lemon juice and the chilled wine or water, one tablespoon at a time, while tossing the dough lightly until it begins to come together. Don’t use more than 3 tablespoons of liquid! Pat the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour. Prepare the pizza rustica filling, below, during this time.

Pizza filling

5 eggs
16 ounces ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped parsley (I omitted this)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, or 10 ounces tomato puree + 4 ounces tomato paste
2/3 cup sliced olives (I omitted these)
8 ounces mozzarella cheese
1 very large bell pepper

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and add the ricotta cheese, onion, parsley, and Parmesan cheese. Season well with salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Mince or crush the garlic and add it together with the marjoram and oregano. When the garlic begins to color, add the tomato sauce (or tomato puree and paste), the olives, and more salt and pepper to taste. Allow the flavors to mingle for a minute or two, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat. 

Thinly slice or grate the mozzarella. Cut the pepper into narrow slices.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Now it’s time for the pie crust: Remove the chilled dough from the fridge. Flour a large piece of parchment paper. Use a knife to cut the chilled dough in half. Working with half the dough at a time, flatten it into a disk with your hands - this may take some patience and gentle nudging, since the chilled dough will be hard - and roll it out with the same patience, until you a have a circle a little larger than your pie dish. Sliding your hand under the parchment paper, palm up, invert the pie dish over the dough with your other hand. In one quick motion, press the pie crust into the pan while turning it right side up. Carefully peel away the parchment paper. 

Spread half the ricotta mixture into the prepared pie crust. Layer half the sliced or shredded mozzarella over it, followed by half the tomato sauce, and half the pepper slices. Repeat all the layers.

Roll out the other half of the dough on the parchment paper. Slide your hand under the parchment paper and place the second dough circle on top of the pie, this time inverting the paper over the filled pie dish. Peel away the parchment paper and cut away any crust, pinching the edges together with the bottom crust. With a sharp knife, cut three long parallel slashes through the top crust.

Bake the pie in the preheated oven for about 35 - 40 minutes, or until the top is browned. Let the pie stand at room temperature for half an hour before serving.

Classic Shortening Pie Crust

The pie crust dough I typically turn to, the dough that kicked off my pie and tart obsession ten years ago, the dough that entices even people who don’t like pie into asking for another slice, is in all honesty a giant cookie. A lightly sweet, emblematic sugar cookie, perfumed with vanilla and fortified with an egg. It escapes all the usual pitfalls a hapless baker - or eater - can encounter while preparing, assembling, and consuming a crust: it doesn’t crumble, it doesn’t dry out, it has plenty of flavor of its own.

The recipe that follows is not that crust. You can find that crust in last year’s Bourbon Pumpkin Pie, and I heartily recommend it when you’d like a sweet, crisp case for whatever filling your heart desires. However, the recipe that follows is a very good crust. It’s flaky, which the cookie crust is not, and provides a much more classic, savory contrast to a rich pie.

I wanted to try an all-shortening recipe, in the hope of broadening my dairy-free dessert repertoire, and am pleased to report that shortening makes it all easier. Much, much easier. Straight out of the freezer, it’s still more pliable than butter, mixing like a dream with flour, sugar, and salt. The chilled dough actually allows itself to be rolled into a circle without crumbling (much). While a butter crust can’t be beat for flavor, a shortening crust can’t be beat for ease.

Watch for this crust in the next post, playing a supporting role to pears and pecans!

Classic Shortening Pie Crust

Adapted from Pie by Ken Haedrich

Yield: 1 crust for a 9 1/2” deep-dish pie

Notes: Keeping your wet ingredients - shortening and water - as cold as possible will add to the flakiness of the dough. To keep your water cold until you add it, measure it into a glass measuring cup and place the cup in a bowl filled with ice and water. This crust can be made by hand or with an electric mixer. Both approaches are easy and quick. The dough may be frozen for up to a month, wrapped well in plastic wrap, before using.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening
1/4 cup cold water

Over a large bowl, cut the vegetable shortening into pieces. Place the bowl, shortening and all, into the freezer for 10 minutes. Remove and sprinkle the flour, sugar, and salt over the shortening.

By hand: With your fingertips, a pastry blender, or two knives, rub or chop the shortening into the flour mixture until it all looks like coarse meal. You’ll see a combination of small and large clumps. Add about half of the water to the dough, stirring with a fork and tossing up the dry flour from the bottom of the bowl to incorporate it. Add the rest of the water in two stages, mixing until the dough sticks together. Add just enough water to dampen the dough; you may not need the full 1/4 cup.

With a mixer: On low speed, mix the shortening and flour until you’ve got coarse meal with both large and small clumps. Add about half the water and mix in short bursts, turning the mixer on and off. Add the rest of the water in two stages, mixing on low speed until the dough begins to form large clumps. Stop as needed to toss up the drier parts of the mixture from the bottom of the bowl.

Sprinkle a cutting board or countertop with flour, and flour your hands as well. Turn the dough onto your surface, patting it together into a lump if it wants to break apart, and flatten it into a disk about 3/4 inch thick. If the edges are crumbly (as mine always seem to be), pat them into the disk with your fingertips. Wrap the disk of dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or overnight. 

When you’re ready to assemble your pie, unwrap the dough, place it on a large piece of parchment paper, and roll out to a 13-inch circle. Invert a pie dish over the center of the dough. With one hand underneath the parchment paper, supporting the dough, and the other holding the pie dish, flip everything over so your bottom hand is now on top, pressing the dough into the pie dish. Carefully peel away the paper and trim the edges of the dough.

Honey Pumpkin Muffins

Every year, for the past 25 years, my mother has baked these pumpkin muffins for Thanksgiving. The recipe accompanied my brother home from Circle of Life preschool when he was two years old. Along with an often rainy hike in Tryon Creek State park and dramatic presentations after dinner - poems we selected from anthologies when all the kids were young and wrote ourselves when we were older, last-minute skits, and an eclectic array of music performances - a basket of pumpkin muffins on one end of the long dining room table meant that it was Thanksgiving.

This is the first year that my husband and I won’t spend Thanksgiving with a branch of our families. In fact, no one will sit at the long dining room table up in Portland. With a baby due in four and a half weeks, we’re loath to hop on a plane. The brother who brought home the pumpkin muffin recipe is vacationing in Australia with his wife and toddler. My middle brother lives in Israel now. And my youngest brother will fly down from Canada to meet my parents at the LA airport, en route to celebrate the holiday with my mom’s side of the family.

We’re looking forward to Thanksgiving with good friends here. I’m excited to contribute warm fall pies, to share in another family’s traditions. And right alongside that anticipation, the urge to commemorate my family’s own traditions has popped up more and more strongly. Hiking in Foothills Park this weekend spurred memories of the Annual Thanksgiving Day Hike - rained-out half the time, but an integral part of the day if in name only - and a plan to visit more fall foliage this coming Thursday. I’m on the lookout for a seasonal poem that I hope will come across as clearly via Skype to LA as it would in a brightly lit room bursting with happy, belly-full people. And last week, the Circle of Life pumpkin muffins emerged from our oven. Each bite - the autumn spices just assertive enough, the pumpkin, honey, and oil making for a moist, cake-like muffin - brings back laughter, firelight, and home.

Honey Pumpkin Muffins

Adapted from Circle of Life Preschool’s recipe

Notes: I used regular (not extra-virgin) olive oil. These muffins freeze and microwave very well.

1/2 cup oil
1 cup honey
1 egg
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a large bowl, combine oil and honey. For ease of pouring the honey, measure the oil first in a glass measuring cup, then use the same cup to measure the honey. Beat in the egg and the pumpkin puree. Mix in the dry ingredients. 

Bake the muffins for 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool before eating, if you can.

Pumpkin Soup with Pepper and Lime

This time of year, it’s tempting to go all-out with pumpkin. No holds barred. Is it because it gets attention for such a brief season, even though pumpkin puree is available in grocery stores all year round? Would pumpkin ice cream taste just as delicious in February, a pumpkin pie as beguiling in May, or is it something about its moment in the autumn spotlight?

Pumpkin deserves its starring roles in desserts and quick breads, but when you consider its possibilities as a savory ingredient, a brave new culinary world opens up. While my first effort at a pumpkin-based entree - a cheesy soufflé attempted a few years ago - is better left undiscussed, this smooth and creamy soup, hearty with bell pepper and onion sautéed till they almost melt into the pumpkin, lively with lime, and sparking with a hit of chili powder, will warm you up on a fall night but be equally at home on a spring evening. It’s satisfying without being heavy and vegan to boot, a lovely light meal on its own or a friendly accompaniment to a warm dinner.

Pumpkin Soup with Pepper and Lime

Adapted from Soups by Mollie Katzen

~Yield: 6-8 generous servings~

Notes: According to the original recipe, the soup yields 6 servings. I found that you end up with a *lot* of soup; we probably got a good ten or twelve bowls out of it. Judge according to your eaters. While Ms. Katzen recommends fresh lime juice, 2 1/2 tablespoons of bottled juice did a fine job adding a citrusy edge. Try topping the soup with pepitas and scallions as she suggests, or the way we liked it, with a grated mild white cheese.

1 29-oz can pureed pumpkin
4 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups minced onion
1 large bell pepper, minced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 - 3 tablespoons lime juice
Black pepper
Optional toppings: grated mild white cheese, such as jack or muenster; pepitas (pumpkin seeds); chopped scallions

In a large soup pot, stir together the pumpkin and water until smooth. Heat gently, partially covered, stirring often.

In a medium pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the onion and bell pepper and sauté for five minutes. Stir in the garlic, salt, and chili powder. Turn the heat down to low. Cover and cook for about ten minutes, stirring often, until vegetables are soft.

Add the vegetables to the pumpkin, along with the lime juice. Stir well, cover, and simmer for ten minutes. Add black pepper to taste and serve steaming hot, topped with your choice of cheese, pepitas, scallions, or other savory tidbits.

Cranberry-Walnut Muffins

Summer has lingered on and on in the Bay Area, disappearing around a corner for a day or two of cooler weather before popping out again. But now, the trees are finally kissed with red, gold, and bronze, and if today promises to be a last 80-degree hurrah, the weather report reassures that it is, in fact November, with predictions of drizzly 50s later this week.

What is it about fall food that invites rhapsodies? Spring’s inspired stacks of poetry - young love and rising sap - and summer’s launched a million songs. Fall has its poems and songs too, but they tend toward fading memories, last harvests, beauty giving way to natural decay. Fall food, though - that’s another story. Warmth, spice, rich layers of hearty flavor, and a chance for North America’s native fruits to shine, appreciated all the more for the contrast to sharpening nights and the smoky scent of leaves in the air: small wonder that hot cider, pumpkin, pear, and cranberry appeal so much during the shift in seasons.

Taken from a slim cookbook put out by an idyllic, antique-cluttered bed and breakfast my husband and I once visited, this muffin recipe reminds me of the days I would bake a new batch of muffins or quick bread every week, slipping a portion into a ziploc bag to eat on the way to school during the chilly, before-sunrise commute. These are comforting, a little crumbly, and just sweet enough, with a zing from the fresh cranberries and a zip from the orange zest. Now my wake-up times have more flexibility, but the homeyness of this time of year still calls for simple baked goods, preferably emerging from the oven regularly, ready to share with friends.

Cranberry-Walnut Muffins

Adapted from Breakfast and Bread: Favorite Recipes from the Schwegmann House Bed and Breakfast Inn

~Yield: 12 muffins~

1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Zest of one large orange 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a standard-size 12-cup muffin tin, or line with paper cups.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. In a second bowl, whisk the milk with the melted butter, egg, and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients, and combine with as few strokes as possible. It’s all right if a few patches of flour are still visible in the batter.

Stir in the chopped cranberries, walnuts, and orange zest. Dollop the batter into the muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full.

Bake 15 - 20 minutes, until tops of muffins are golden brown. The Schwegmann House advises brushing the muffins with melted butter once they leave the oven, but they are plenty delicious without it.

Chocolate Town Pie

Before I tell you about chocolate town pie - before we get to its place in the canon of my in-laws’ recipes, before we discuss the first time I tasted a forkful of it in my husband’s apartment, long before we started dating, or the fact that it mates with a simple store-bought crust as if they were designed for each other, making it a dessert that yields a very large pleasure-to-time ratio - I have a request to make.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a kitchen breakdown.

There’s something about that room: it can shift from a warm, cozy haven, fragranced with spicy aromas, where working with food is an aesthetic, pleasurable, and even meditative experience; where the counters are clean and each ingredient is experienced through all the senses; to an inferno of rising panic interspersed with multitasking, frequent expletives, sweat, miscalculated cooking times, and dishes narrowly missing the floor - or not. Sometimes all it takes is one pot boiling over.

After the cycle of Jewish holidays in September and October, when the time to reflect in synagogue was matched by sharing many, many festive meals, it was time to re-evaluate. As much as I loved hosting friends and family, and liked the idea of planning elaborate menus themed by cuisine, the reality of spending a full Sunday in the kitchen whipping up seven dishes for four eaters - fully aware in the back of my mind that yes! Another meal is coming up! And another! - prompted a spousal intervention and a break from the kitchen.

One of the challenges of cooking - and enjoying the process - is recognizing its two faces. The artistic side wants slow movements, focus, thought, and care. The functional side demands getting food on the table as efficiently as possible, which makes it tempting to multitask in the name of speed, stirring two pots at once while intermittently chopping onions and leaning over to check something in the oven. 

Fortunately, chocolate town pie is one of those happy dishes that doesn’t make you choose. The pie almost makes itself: whip up the components of a giant cookie, but with just enough flour to bind it all; stir in a big helping of chocolate chips, and pour most of the batter into a pie shell, reserving a dollop to taste. What you’ll pull out of the oven is almost candy in a crust: a crackly cookie top gives way to a layer of butterscotch goo, all grounded by a firm foundation of chocolate. Warm, it’s amazing, but I like chocolate town pie even better after it’s cooled in the fridge, when the chocolate chips have melded together into a solid layer at the bottom of the pie. With a list of ingredients that are probably all in your fridge and pantry, this is a go-to pie for hosting, potlucks, and any time you want a quick, fresh-baked, delicious dessert.

Chocolate Town Pie

Adapted from a wedding gift book of family recipes via my sister-in-law

~Yield: 1 9” or 9 1/2” pie, about 8 servings~

Notes: I always use a basic, frozen pie crust, with great results. If you make your own, I recommend a recipe without sugar, to contrast with the sweetness of the filling. I love this recipe with vanilla; my husband loves it with bourbon. Sometimes I compromise with a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of bourbon. The full two tablespoons of bourbon will definitely give a strong bourbon flavor, along with an airier texture. While I typically use semisweet, milk chocolate chips are also delicious if you have a real sweet tooth, as is a mix of white and semisweet chocolate chips. Finally, the original recipe called for one cup chopped pecans or walnuts. If you like nuts in your cookies and pies, go for it.

1 9” or 9-1/2” unbaked pie crust

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract OR 2 tablespoons bourbon
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If using a pie crust in an aluminum tin, set it on a cookie sheet for stability.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter until fluffy. Beat in the eggs and the vanilla or bourbon. Mix in the sugar and flour until batter is smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips. 

Pour the batter into the pie crust. Bake 45-50 minutes or until top is golden. Cool for about one hour.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Some recipes are worth the wait. 

I’ve been wanting to share these cinnamon roll chimeras - half cookie, half cupcake, all indulgence - since finding the recipe in the L.A. Times during a visit with my grandma in June. After carefully scissoring the article out of the paper (and feeling very old-fashioned in the process), keeping it safe between the pages of one of the books my grandmother sent home with me as she habitually does, and giving it a place of honor in my cookbook holder at home, I pulled it out two weeks later to make a batch for my birthday.

Let me tell you what these cookies aren’t: they aren’t a quick n’ dirty, whip up the dough in one bowl and shove the cookie sheet in the oven affair. They aren’t the team-playing, share-the-dessert-table kind. They want your attention, both during the baking process and the eating process, and they’ll reward you with all the spiced nutty richness and caramel-noted brown sugar you could hope for in a cinnamon roll, plus the flaky buttery texture of a compact cookie, and minus the yeasted dough rising time.

Naturally, since I figured one dessert wasn’t enough for a birthday party and heaped the cookies on a platter alongside these, various sorbets, and fresh melon, we ended up with leftovers, which freeze excellently and respond well to a brief bout in the microwave. Make these nuggets for someone you love, or for an occasion you’d like to remember. They’re worth the effort.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Adapted from the San Diego bakery The Cravory, via the L.A. Times

~Yield: 24 substantial cookies~

Note: This recipe calls for two chilling times: an hour plus for the dough alone, and anywhere between an hour and overnight for the dough + filling log. Because some ingredients are repeated in the dough, the filling, and the glaze, I’ve put the instructions for each of the three components after their respective ingredient lists.

Cookie Dough
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar
1 cup (8 oz) brown sugar
1/4 cup (1 oz) powdered sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups + 1 teaspoon (13 oz) unbleached flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup (1 oz) cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, brown sugar, and powdered sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated, then add the vanilla.  

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until just combined - careful not to over mix! Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

1 cup (4 oz) chopped, toasted pecans
1/2 cup (4 oz) brown sugar
1/4 (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Shortly before you plan to assemble the cookies, combine all filling ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring well.

Flour a cutting board or work surface. Turn the dough out and roll with a rolling pin into a 10 x 10 inch square.

Spoon and spread the filling evenly over the dough.

Gently roll the dough into a tight log. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour, preferably overnight.

2 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (4 oz) powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, scraped
zest of 1/2 orange (optional)
3 tablespoons milk

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the cream cheese and butter. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar, then add the vanilla and optional orange zest. Mix in the milk until the glaze is smooth and thick.

Grease two 12-cup muffin tins. Take the dough log out of the refrigerator. Slice the log crosswise into 24 even slices, about 1/2 inch thick. Coax each slice into a muffin cup.

Bake until the tops of the cookies are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Rotate the tins halfway through the baking time.

Let the cookies cool in the muffin tins. With a fork, drizzle the glaze over the cookies.

Apple and Honey Loaf

I teach at a Catholic school, and it feels like home. There’s always food on the table in the staff room. Faculty babies abound. Everyone looks out for everyone else. And it was only a matter of months before I stopped noticing the flapping ties of second grade boys as they jumped up and down to “Ridin’ on the Railway” in music class. Right before last Passover, seventy 7th and 8th graders piled into my room to learn about how Jews celebrate the holiday. I brought in far too little matzah and far too much charoset, and passed around haggadahs and described the seder. On the way out, the kids ate all the matzah I had set aside for the 6th grade, right under my nose. I’d have figured they were going through some lean times, except that I kept fielding questions from subsequent classes about where to buy matzah, you know, if you wanted to have it as a snack. Yes. These kids actually wanted to eat matzah as a snack. Voluntarily embracing the bread of affliction and devouring it for fun. I think I actually saw some pieces of matzah make an appearance in a ziploc bag at recess a few days later.

For all their matzah-pursuing ways, the kiddos fell down on the job when it came to charoset consumption. I can’t blame them; with the minuscule fragments of matzah I had to dole out, there was barely room to scoop up a taste of the stuff. That meant I was left with an enormous tupperware of grated apples, walnuts, and cinnamon in wine, packed solid and weighing as much as an infant, which I offered it to the 8th grade teacher to present to her starving students as an afternoon pick-me-up. She graciously agreed. At the end of the school day, I found the tupperware returned to the all-accepting food table in the faculty room, pristine and untouched. Since then, it’s been taking up real estate in my freezer.

With Rosh Hashanah dawning - a time of new beginnings and a clean slate - it only makes sense to clear out my freezer. (Bear with me, and please ignore any shades of Passover prep.) The charoset, I reasoned, would be perfect in a quick bread. A zucchini-type bread, with grated apples instead. I made a loaf, and it was moist, sweet, mildly appled, just crusted enough around the edges, and everything else a quick bread should be. And the tupperware of charoset? It looked as though the surface had been ruffled by a light wind. Nothing whatsoever to indicate that a packed cup of this business had been scooped out to help structure the loaf cooling on my kitchen counter.

So I did the logical thing. I made five more loaves. One for my parents in Portland and my two brothers temporarily nesting with them before flying the coop. Three for the string ensembles I direct, and one intended for the faculty food table that somehow disappeared before it could make its way there.

The plus side of making follow-up batches is getting to tinker. First time around, I hewed closely to a zucchini bread recipe and just cut the sugar a smidge to make up for the sweetness of the apples. After that, I used mostly brown sugar, swapped a quarter cup for honey to underscore the Rosh Hashanah connection, and amped up the spice with a zing of ginger and a hit of cloves. In the end, it encapsulates just the experiences I hope for in a new year: sweet, a little nutty, with a spicy kick, and asking to be shared.

As for the charoset: don’t worry, there’s still enough left to use for both seders next Passover.

Apple and Honey Loaf

Liberally tweaked from Smitten Kitchen

~Yield: 2 8x4” loaves~

Note: Although I used charoset for the grated apples in this recipe, I don’t think the splash of wine and sprinkling of cinnamon made much difference in the final flavor. So, if you don’t have a brick of the stuff hanging out next to your ice cubes, plain old grated apple is just fine.

3 eggs
1 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 cups packed grated apple (okay to leave unpeeled)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon powdered cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 8×4 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Mix in oil, sugars, and honey, then add the apples and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir into the egg mixture. Divide the batter into prepared pans.

Bake loaves for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Royal Milk Tea

After waxing rhapsodic about Kyoto convenience store eclairs, it’s only fitting to return to Japan as the inspiration for August’s Monthly Mingle, featuring street food. The one challenge: I didn’t come across true street food in Japan. According to the guidebook we consulted countless times each day of our visit (Frommer’s, if you’re interested), it’s considered a breach of etiquette to eat or drink while walking down the street.

Vending machines, though? Those are a whole different story. The beverage selection alone leaves Coke vs. Pepsi choices in the dust, and the array of items sold in vending machines, edible and non-edible, just goes on from there. What’s more, they’re all over the place, dotting back streets and offering relief from summer humidity in public parks. 

We sampled all kinds of drinks and found a few pleasant surprises along the way: hot cocoa in a can, warm sake in a flowered cardboard box with a little straw, and Calpis soda, sweet and yogurty. Most often, I chose Royal Milk Tea, a black tea thickened with milk and sweetened with sugar. Its blue and white can became familiar over the course of twelve days of travel, cold in my hand, a refreshing pause in long, hot treks between gardens and temples.

Royal Milk Tea

~Yield: about 2 cups~

Adapted from

Note: The recipe calls for five different types of loose-leaf black tea. I simplified things and stuck to English Breakfast, which the headnote cited as “absolutely elementary” to the recipe, along with evaporated milk. While it didn’t taste exactly like the milk tea I remember, it came close. Loose-leaf English Breakfast tea was surprisingly difficult to find; I ended up buying a box of Mighty Leaf tea bags, which use whole leaves, and cutting them open. Rather than steeping for the recommended five minutes, I steeped for four, which made for a plenty strong brew.

3 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons loose-leaf English Breakfast tea
1 2/3 cups water
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons sugar (or to taste)
2 tablespoons milk (or to taste)

Boil the water and steep the tea leaves in it for four minutes. Strain the tea into another teapot, pyrex measuring cup, or heat-safe container. In the kitchen sink, aerate the tea by pouring it from one container to the other from a height of about a foot. Repeat the process three or four times. Two pyrex measuring cups or other spouted containers are perfect for this.

Add the evaporated milk, and stir in sugar to taste. If the tea, or evaporated milk flavor, is too strong for your liking, add milk to taste - two tablespoons did the trick for me.

Drink hot or chill before serving. I like it as cold as possible.

Profiteroles with Vanilla Bean Cream and Butterscotch Sauce

In the midst of a whirlwind of happy events - my mom coming for a few days, putting on a recital with friends, and a visit from my thirteen-year-old cousin - these three-part, airy puffs, accoutered with vanilla bean pastry cream and a butterscotch sauce that’s a kissing cousin to ganache, the sort of delicacy I would never make if not for someone else prescribing it (sense a theme here?), somehow got made. They got eaten, too, but the logistics of that are less of a mystery.

When I make desserts, I gravitate toward heartiness: fruit-heaped pies, moist dense cakes, chewy cookies. Profiteroles? Those belong to glass cases in bakeries, or plated at a restaurant. In fact, I have to admit choux pastry has failed to attract me in the past. It’s struck me as more air than dough. Profiteroles have left my tastebuds unsatisfied and eclairs have disappointed me, with the exception of a cellophane-wrapped pastry I bought in a Kyoto convenience store two years ago, resting unassumingly on the shelf, serene in the knowledge that it would be, unequivocally, the best eclair I’d ever had the privilege to eat. I’m remembering now, at that same convenience store, the o-nigiri - seaweed-wrapped triangles of sticky rice; green tea cookies ‘n’ cream Haagen Dasz; and little bottles of potent plum wine. If I lived in Japan, I would spend a lot more of my time at convenience stores.

Nonetheless, these profiteroles give that Kyoto eclair a run for its money. The choux pastry, cooked on the stovetop before a pass through the oven, is light and fresh. The vanilla bean cream, which tastes like the richest, thickest pudding and is soul-mated with berries, is essentially a room-temperature french vanilla ice cream, pale yellow from a raft of egg yolks and stabilized with cornstarch. And the butterscotch sauce, which no doubt will give you less drama than it did me, takes the whole thing over the top.

Profiteroles with Vanilla Bean Cream and Butterscotch Sauce

Adapted from Ratio

Choux pastry

~Yield: About 20 profiteroles~

8 ounces (1 cup) water
4 ounces (1/2 cup/1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 scant cup) flour
8 ounces (4 large) eggs

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream

~Yield: About 2 1/2 cups~

8 ounces plus 3 ounces milk
8 ounces cream
1 vanilla bean, split down its length, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces sugar (about 1/2 cup)
4 ounces (8 large) egg yolks
6 tablespoons cornstarch
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

Butterscotch Sauce - click through for recipe

Choux pastry
Note: The choux pastry can be baked immediately once it’s cooked on the stovetop, or refrigerated for up to a day before baking.

Preheat oven to 425. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, tin foil, or silicone liners.

In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a simmer. Turn down the heat to medium, add the flour, and stir rapidly. As you stir, the dough will pull away from the sides of the pot. Continue stirring for another minute or two to continue cooking the flour and cook off some of the moisture. Take the pot off the heat and let it cool slightly, a few minutes - it should still be warm to hot. Stir in the eggs rapidly, one at a time. It will take a few seconds of vigorous stirring for each egg to be incorporated - it’s a great upper-body workout. You can also use a standing mixer or electric mixer: transfer the dough to a bowl and mix in the eggs one at  time.

Spoon golf-ball-sized portions of the dough onto the baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 350 and bake for 10 to 20 minutes longer. Taste or cut into one to judge its doneness: it should be airy inside and not too moist. 

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream
Note: This was the first time I used a vanilla bean in cooking. It’s delicious, but I don’t think using the bean rather than extract is necessary. Vanilla extract should work fine and is definitely more economical. You’ll need three mixing bowls for this recipe, two large and one small to medium, as well as a saucepan.

In a medium saucepan, combine the 8 ounces of milk, the cream, and the vanilla bean or extract and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let the bean steep for 15 minutes. With a dull knife, scrape the seeds from the pod into the warm milk and cream. Discard the pod.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and the egg yolks for about 30 seconds, until smooth.

Fill the second large bowl with a half-and-half mixture of ice and water.

In the smaller bowl, stir together the cornstarch and the three ounces of milk until the cornstarch is dissolved. This may take a fair amount of stirring and scraping and remind you of making oobleck in elementary school.

Over medium heat, bring the milk-cream mixture back to just a simmer, then pour it slowly into the egg yolks and sugar while whisking continuously. Incorporating the warm milk slowly keeps the egg yolks from being cooked. Pour the whole thing back in the saucepan and add the cornstarch-milk mixture. Continue stirring over medium heat until the mixture becomes very thick. (Ratio recommends “until it just hits a boil.” My pastry cream never boiled; once it became alarmingly thick, I took it off the heat.) As the mixture thickens, you may notice it becoming increasingly lumpy from the cornstarch action. Never fear; the next step will magically smooth it out.

Sink the base of the saucepan into the water-ice bath and continue stirring until the pastry cream has cooled slightly but is still warm enough to melt the butter. Add the butter, stir until it’s completely incorporated, and watch the texture become velvety. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the surface of the cream, and refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble: Slice each profiterole in half. Place a dollop of pastry cream on the bottom half and sandwich with the top half. Spoon butterscotch sauce over the top. Indulge.

Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

Tags: Food Dessert