Pies!

100th Post and My 30th Birthday Fig and Blueberry Pie!

100th Post 30s Fig and Blueberry Pie!

Today I celebrate two milestones – my 100th post as The Dusty Baker and my 30th birthday!

Such times invite reflection.  I’ve been told by many people that all the things you struggled to discover about yourself throughout your twenties come together in your thirties.  I don’t regret one second of my twenties.  For during that time I graduated college, dated a man for almost 9 years who is now my best friend, formed strong relationships with my parents and siblings, conquered 2 serious battles with my illness, moved to and fell in love with New York City, lived in 6 different apartments (one in Ohio!), discovered a serious relationship with food, performed in some incredible pieces of art, been loved by some very special people and, yes, struggled to figure out who I am, and who I want to be.

And I’m feeling pretty at peace with who I am, and what’s to come.

I started my first blog while I was going through the last stint of my illness.  After some trial and error, I rethought of my mission and rebranded myself as The Dusty Baker, and launched this blog in October of last year.  Sometimes it’s been a top priority, other times it’s taken a backseat to shows and other work.  But throughout I’ve discovered an incredible community and forged connections with some passionate people across the globe:

  • FoodBuzz and the hundreds of bloggers I get inspiration from.
  • The Burwell General Store Recipe Swap that makes me think outside of the box and connects me with some ridiculously talented chefs.
  • Bromography – a NYC foodie website where I contribute The Dusty Review and other food-related articles.
  • Frosting for The Cause, where bakers contribute recipes, baked goods and a small monetary contribution daily that are dedicated to someone who has suffered from cancer.  My date to post is September 11th, the 10-year anniversary of the event that shocked my city and changed the course of politics, economics and warfare in our country.
  • Intercaketuality, a book-inspired website where I can contribute recipes inspired by books and stories that have captured my fancy.

So right now I’m off to a morning at a spa, then picking up a dear friend who’s visiting me for the week, and tonight I’ll dinner and drinks at my favorite restaurant in New York City (Mundo in Queens – check it out!) with a few of my nearest and dearest.

Oh, and then there was pie.  For breakfast.  Yes.

For some reason a rustic fruit pie or tart is what I want to celebrate with on my birthday.  I don’t often celebrate this day too extremely; sometimes I pick peaches and make jam, or make dinner for my family, or order take-out. It’s usually just a good time for reflection and the company of a friend or two.  But when I think of “who am I, in a pie!?”, simple pleasures come to mind:

A gluten-free, simple crust of whole grains with a tiny bit of natural sweetness.  Fruit that’s ripe and luscious.  Figs are often in season this time of year, fitting because my first taste of fresh figs was with my father and grandfather at his home in Portugal, and they’ve held a special significance since then.  A little bit of attention and some heat and I’m happy.  Like this pie.

Pie! For breakfast!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp sweet white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup arrowroot starch
  • 2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp date sugar + more to taste
  • 1 cup / two sticks unsalted butter, cubed small
  • 1 pint of blueberries, rinsed and stemmed
  • 160z container of green figs, cut into thirds length-wise

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Place the flours, starch, xanthan gum, salt and 2 Tbsp date sugar in a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a food processor.  Pulse to combine.
  • Add the cubed butter and mix on low / pulse until it starts to come together into a ball.  If too try, add ice-cold water a tablespoon at a time until it just pulls together.
  • Press into a pie plate (I use a spring-form tart pan for gluten-free crusts).
  • Blind-bake for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, toss stemmed and rinsed blueberries in 2 Tbsp sweet sticky rice and 1 Tbsp date sugar.
  • When done, remove crust from oven, fill with blueberries, and arrange figs artfully on top.
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until the fruit is soft and the crust is lightly browned.

Figs!

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My (Broken) Heart in a Pie

(Broken) Heart Pie

Broken hearts are messy.  As is this (Broken) Heart Pie.  In my mind my submission for Pietopia’s friendly competition which asks “what does your life taste like, in a pie?” was a bit more elegant, a bit more pulled together.  But I guess that’s the thing about a broken heart in a dusty kitchen.  Things aren’t always going to come out the way you had hoped.  And that’s okay.  Just like I will be.

So, “what does my life taste like, in a pie?” 

Red fruits, lots of them; rich and luscious and sweet and syrupy.  Candied nuts.  Ginger.  Cinnamon.  Molasses.  Warm flavors.  All things ripe and sweet and full of color and bursting with love.  For as much as my heart is very much broken, it is still bursting with love.  Both for the person who broke it, and for myself.  I’ve never been in such a humbled position.

So, the creation.  I decided to cut myself some slack and not make homemade ginger molasses cookies, as I’m not in my apartment with my arsenal of tools.  I picked up a box of Ginger Cookies with Sliced Almonds from Pamela’s Products.  They’re very moist and gluten and dairy free, so all I had to do was crush them, mix them with about 3 Tbsp of melted unsalted butter, press into a pie plate and bake for a bit.  I should have bought two boxes, to make a fuller crust, or gotten off my tush and made a pie crust as I have dozens for times before.  But again, dusty.  So the crust only covers the bottom and slightly up the sides.

I guess this is more like a (Broken) Heart Cobbler.  Same difference.

The recipe for the filling is below, and I suggest your favorite sweet crust – using a ginger snap or molasses cookie seems to suit these fruits perfectly.  And because of the cookies I used this pie was gluten-free.  And had I used Earth Balance instead of the butter in the crust, it’d be dairy-free too.

While I only had a small bite of the final product, I can promise you this pie (cobbler, whatever), is very luscious, very sweet, and almost sanguine.  The cast* gobbled it down after our run-through tonight and seemed pleased, saying they were fortified with the fruit and nut combination, and it disappeared quickly.

I didn’t tell them the name: (Broken) Heart Pie.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh cherries, pitted
  • 1 1/2 cup fresh, sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries, whole
  • 1/2 cup dried, unsweetened cherries
  • 1/2 cup candied almonds (I used sweet cinnamon almonds roasted from Whole Foods, but here’s a solid recipe from Food.com).
  • 1/2 cup sugar, honey or some form of sweetener
  • 4 Tbsp cornstarch, tapioca starch or arrowroot
  • 1 pie crust of choice

Directions

  • Prepare whichever pie crust you prefer, and blind-bake it (bake it without anything in it) until done.  Remove from heat while you prepare the filling.
  • Place the pitted cherries in a large, preferably non-stick pot or dutch oven.  Bring to medium heat and allow some of the cherry juices to reduce, around five minutes.
  • Add the raspberries and strawberries, and continue to cook until the mixture first bubbles with juice, and then begins to reduce, about 8 minutes.  You want the mixture to still have some juice, but not so much that it’s overwhelming the fruit.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Whisk together the sugar and starch, and pour over fruit.  Mix thoroughly until incorporated (if you’re using honey, add that first and mix in, and then the starch).
  • Return to low heat and continue stirring gently until the mixture thickens.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • When almost cool, stir in dried cherries and almonds.
  • Fill crust.
  • Set in the refrigerator until completely chilled before serving.

*Shameless plug: I’m performing in Enchanted April at the Hampton Theater Company, running from May 26th to June 12th in Quogue, New York.  If you’re near the Hamptons, please come check it out. It’s a darling show with a lot of heart, and some really challenging and fulfilling moments for me onstage.  And I’ll be selling garden shortbread cookies at the concessions.

Bourbon Molasses Apple Pie (with candied bacon)

Bourbon Molasses Apple Pie with candied bacon

The problem with living in the best city in the world is that you can plan a refined night for you and your significant other of theatre and a late supper at a French restaurant, and then end up going to the theatre, then a rock club, then a blues club, then an Eastern European dive bar until the wee hours of morning, all the while proclaiming “we live in the best city in the world!”

Naturally, sleeping in the following morning was required.  And then the long subway ride home had me maneuvering construction-ed lines, packed by panicked tourists who ripped the bag of groceries I had been schlepping for far too many transfers.

But at least I was going home to PIE.  Apple pie, with molasses and bourbon and a bit of candied bacon on top.  As I was groggily hitting the elevator button, the boyfriend remarked that I had yet to bake him a pie.  As fellow dusty bakers can understand, this was less of a histrionically domestic complaint and more a phrase of endearment that had me humming on my way to the grocery.   My day had taken a turn to the apple world.  It’s a sweet world.

This is the third version of this recipe, lovingly entitled “Punch Yo Mama Kentucky Apple Pie”.  From my time on the border of Kentucky, I learned that those people do well with delicious food and honor their bourbon.

In the last two test versions the molasses flavor held its own but there was virtually no bourbon flavor.  So instead of heating the bourbon and molasses to make a glaze (which I found killed the taste of the alcohol) I blended them at room temperature with a little tapioca starch to thicken the mixture.  I also included bourbon into the pie crust, finding that the flavor works well baked in flours.  Previously I candied thick-cut bacon with a molasses / brown sugar mixture and baked it into the pie – this time candied thinner bacon and sprinkled it on when serving to retain its crunch.

The result?  The bourbon flavor came though just enough that you’d notice but not be overwhelmed by it.  I had added no sugar to the apples, and they came out sweet and caramely, and the cinnamon gave them a bit of punch.  The crust was a bit too crumbly on day one, but definitely didn’t distract, and was soft and manageable on day two.  (For a flawless crust try my Perfect Gluten-Free Pie Crust) By far the apple/molasses/bourbon combination was killer!  And the bacon was so crunchy and sweet that the crusts don’t even need sugar.

Notes: You can use regular white flour in the crust, or experiment with gluten-free flour blends you like using. This crust was a bit crumbly – I’d stick to my easy gluten-free crust or Perfect Gluten-Free Pie Crust, including the bourbon instead of water as suggested below.  If going gluten-free, just make sure you have enough starch and xantham gum to pull the flour together.  You can also use butter-flavored Earth Balance and omit the egg to make this dairy-free and vegan.  I’m experimenting with sugars lately, and used just a tiny bit in this, but it really doesn’t matter what kind of sweetener you use.  Yes, the flavor will vary slightly, but that’s one of the beautiful things about pies: make a crust and fill it with fruit and chances are you’re going to be happy.

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • 14 small apples, preferably of three varieties
  • 2 Tbsp. bourbon
  • 3 Tbsp. molasses
  • 2 tsp. starch (I used tapioca)
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon (preferably two different, pungent varieties – I used Indonesian and Chinese)
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/2 tsp.

For the crust:

  • 1 cup white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup amaranth flour
  • 1/2 cup sweet white sorghum flour
  • 1/2 cup tapioca starch
  • 1 1/2 tsp. xantham gum
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. sweetener – I used sucanat, crushed cane sugar, because I accidentally picked it up instead of fructose, which I was going to try using.  I’m still working on which sweetener I like best for health / baking reasons.
  • 16 Tbsp. butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 Tbsp. bourbon
  • 4 Tbsp. ice cold water
  • 1 egg, beaten, for brushing on the top of the pie.  You can also use egg white, melted butter or water.

For the Bacon:

  • 5 slices of thin bacon
  • Your choice of sugar – brown sugar or sucanat will flavor best

Directions:

Prepare the Filling:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Peel, core and slice apples, and let them sit in a strainer.
  3. In a small bowl, mix molasses, bourbon and starch.  Blend with a fork.
  4. Separate the apples onto two cookie sheets with high rims.  Pour 1/2 of the molasses mixture on each sheet, and mix thoroughly with your hands until the apples are coated.
  5. Sprinkle with each tray with 1/2 of the cinnamon and nutmeg
  6. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until just soft while you prep the crust.

For the crust: I use a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.

  1. Place flours, starch, xantham gum, salt and sugar in the bowl and whisk together.
  2. Toss in butter and start to mix on low speed until the butter is cut in, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the bourbon one tablespoon at a time, and then the water, using only just enough for the dough to pull together.
  4. On a floured pastry board, roll half of the pastry into a disk to fit your pie plate.  I make sure to thoroughly turn and flip my dough so that it doesn’t stick, as gluten free dough can break easily.
  5. Fill the plate with apples, tapping down slightly.
  6. Roll out the top crust, close pie, seal the edges with a fork.
  7. Mix a teaspoon of water with a slightly beaten egg, brush the top of the pie, and sprinkle with sugar if desired (After sampling, the pie was sweet enough without the sugar and would have been prettier if I had omitted it).
  8. Bake for 45 minutes, covering the edges of the pie halfway through to prevent browning, or until top of pie is slightly browned and apples cooked through.

To candy the Bacon:

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Fit roasting rack into a cookie sheet and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Place sugar of choice in a small bowl, and thoroughly coat bacon with sugar.
  4. Place on cooking rack and sprinkle more sugar on top of each slice.
  5. Cook for five minutes and, if desired, turn bacon and sprinkle with more sugar.
  6. Cook for five more minutes, remove from oven and remove bacon to a plate to cool completely before chopping into small bits.
  7. Sprinkle on top slices of pie for serving.

Fall Apple Pie

Molasses Apple Pie

October conjures up images of pumpkins, falling leaves and little children running around in costumes.   It’s also the time for the inevitable transition from salads to soups, the pulling of comforters from storage, and for grabbing the hiking boots and tromping through orchards.  And when one can’t get away from the urban jungle to feel the sensation of grabbing a perfectly ripe apple off a tree, you can thank the rising trend of artesinal apples for the variety that can be found at local farmer’s markets and specialty food stores.

I have no magical combination that I use in my apple pies.  Over the years I’ve explored the most local kinds for wherever I happen to be, and generally follow a combination of a 3-apple blend of sweet, tart and complex.  Granny Smith and Golden Delicious are staples, depending on how delicious the particular bunch is.  I also am a huge fan of Macoun, Northern Spy, Braeburn and Mutsu.  I’m even a bigger fan of dozens of varieties I can’t recall, because they just tasted so good when I took that first bite.

The best pies start with a little voodoo: enjoy the magic that is touching, smelling, tasting, and conjuring up ideas of how a combination will taste when baked into a crumbly crust.

I par-bake the apples together while making the crust.  This helps the spices infuse more thoroughly and then you don’t have to bake the crust so long, so it can be flakier and softer than ever.

This crust recipe utilizes a unique blend of gluten-free flours – sweet rice, amaranth, quinoa and flaxseed.  I tried these together for both health and flavor reasons, and was more pleased with this result than any other combination I’ve recently tried.  The rice provides structure, the quinoa both protein and optimum digestibility, the amaranth sweetness and a slightly different texture, and the flax provide a nutty flavor and fiber.

I swirl a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses over the par-baked apples to provide even more depth and complexity – an experiment of old that sent me over the full moon!

Ingredients – Crust :

  • 3/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 3/4 cup quinoa flour
  • 1/4 cup amaranth flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseeds
  • 1/3 cup tapioca starch
  • 2 tsps xantham gum
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tablespoons date or palm sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 sticks unsalted organic butter, cubed small

Ingredients – Apples:

  • A blend of 3 apples, 4-5 each depending on size, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Saigon cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg (preferably freshly ground)
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 farenheit
  2. Spread apples on 2 baking sheets, and sprinkle evenly with palm sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  3. Bake apples for about 10 minutes in preheated oven, until just soft.  Remove to cool slightly.
  4. While apples are cooking, prepare the crust.  In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment place all crust ingredients, and use a fork or whisk to blend.
  5. Toss in butter.  Start mixing on low, then medium/low, until the crust just pulls together.  If too dry add ice-cold water, a tablespoon at a time and waiting until incorporated to continue adding.  Try not to overmix – make sure the butter is incorporated but don’t go beyond that.
  6. Roll or press half of the crust into a deep-dish pie plate.  Fill with all the apples, layering high.
  7. Drizzle entire tablespoon of blackstrap molasses on top.
  8. Roll out top crust, cover the apples, seal the edges and slice a few vents in the top.  If desired, use a pastry brush to brush with water or melted butter, and sprinkle with palm sugar.
  9. Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, being sure to cover the edges of the pie halfway through so they don’t brown.
  10. Cool before serving.

Notes: Gluten-free crusts can be hard to roll.  I suggest rolling on a floured piece of parchment or wax paper, flipping the dough after a few rolls, and then using the paper to flip into the plate. Luckily they’re sturdier than traditional crusts, so you can easily refrigerate and roll again.

The crust will crumble initially when cutting.  Refrigerating the pie, slicing and reheating works out best.  No matter how you slice it, it’s a delicious recipe.  The crust is both nutty and sweet, and the flavor of the apples both complex and comfortable.

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