Friday, February 23, 2007

The Truth About Turnovers

When it comes to turnovers, the French have a version called chausson aux pommes, consisting of crisp, flaky pastry layers surrounding a smear of apple compote. There’s a nursery-food quality about this particular treat, which might have something to do with standing at the counter of a patisserie and ordering an apple slipper.

McDonald’s used to serve a type of turnover, better known as fried apple pie. The crust possessed a fascinating texture: crunchy, bubbly craters that looked like a lunar surface. Apparently a lot of people became peeved when McDonald’s switched from fried to baked pies, circa 1992. If you’re among them, here’s a comprehensive listing of fried pie sightings.

A college boyfriend once took me to visit his grandmother in Palm Beach. Tou-Tou lived in a swishy place on the water, had hair the color of a kumquat, and seemed completely surprised to see us. The night we arrived she was hosting a benefit for a Republican senator; the high-ceilinged rooms were filled with tanned people that resembled George Hamilton. We didn’t spend much time with Tou-Tou until the evening before we were to leave, when the three of us ate dinner in the big dining room that smelled of cash. At the end of the meal, a maid served us dessert from a silver tray and guess what was on it? Pepperidge Farm turnovers! Tou-Tou gave me first choice on the filling, and I (daintily) grabbed the only apple. At that point I decided I liked Tou-Tou a lot, even if she was a Republican.

This recipe, however, is for blueberry turnovers. I’ve already given you lots of apple treats: apple pie, apple crumb pie, and apple dumplings. Besides, blueberries don’t require peeling and slicing. Tick, tock goes the relentless pie-making clock. You could substitute apples for the blueberries, although you’d need to cook them first, I think. I used a cream cheese pastry and the resulting turnovers were lovely and crisp with a nice juicy filling.


As far as desserts go, turnovers are rather jolly, like something you’d see in a book of nursery rhymes. They’re cozy and portable and require not even a plate or fork to enjoy them. One young prince dubbed them “pie to go,” and then promptly sat down and ate two. (Or was it three?)

Blueberry Turnovers
Adapted from the Pie and Pastry Bible

Pastry for a double crust pie
16 oz. blueberries (frozen is fine)
1/2 c. sugar
pinch of salt
2 T. cornstarch
1/4 t. almond extract
1 egg white, stirred until frothy
milk for glazing

Whisk together sugar and salt. Add blueberries and toss gently to coat the fruit. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes. Transfer blueberries and their juices to a saucepan. Stir in the cornstarch until it is dissolved and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring gently. Allow to boil for 30 seconds to a minute, until the juices become clear and very thick. Gently stir in the almond extract. Empty the fruit mixture into a bowl and allow it to cool completely.

Make a 6-inch circle cardboard template. (I used the back of a legal pad,) Divide the pastry dough into 10 equal pieces. Using a well floured board and rolling pin, roll the dough into a circle. Place the template on top and with a sharp knife, cut out the dough into the circle.


Brush the bottom half of the circle with egg white, leaving a 1-inch border. Spoon 2 tablespoons filling onto this section and then fold the top part of the dough over the fruit, so that the edges line up.


With your fingers, press the border to seal it. Fold the edge up over itself, pressing again to seal. Place carefully on a foil lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining turnovers. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400. Set an oven rack on the lowest position and place a large cookie sheet, baking pan, or baking stone on top. Brush milk lightly on top of turnovers and sprinkle with a bit of sugar. Use a sharp knife to cut a few steam vents into the top of each turnover.

Bake 20-30 minutes or until the filling is bubbling out of the vents and the pastry is golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 10 turnovers.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Toll House Pie

The name might seem familiar. Toll House, you say, in a voice tinged with skepticism. As in . . . cookie?

Correct. A+. Well done. Class, go home.


Really, there’s not much else to say. The filling is simple and rich. It tastes of chocolate and nuts and butter and sugar, just like the cookie that made the restaurant (and Nestle) famous. This version of the dessert makes a tidier presentation, though, and in exchange for your labor in making a piecrust you don’t have to grease cookie sheets and stand over an oven counting the minutes. You don’t have to worry that some of the cookies will come out scorched and some underdone and some oddly-shaped and some oversized. You don’t have to count how many you’ve eaten and worry that it’s seven too many.

The pie is much more forgiving. And like its namesake, it’s open to a bit of improvisation. Perhaps you’d like to try a different flavor chip – milk chocolate, say, or butterscotch? Wise choice. Do you only have pecans or macadamia nuts? Not to worry. Maybe you’d like a bit of fruity chewiness – dried cherries, perhaps? Finely chopped dates? A capital idea. The King requests that the next time I make it I include coconut, and naturally --as usual -- the Queen will be captive to his wishes.

What you have then is a No Excuse Pie. Even if your pantry – like mine - is looking a bit peaked after a string of snowy, housebound days, this is a manageable treat. Pull yourself off your post-Valentine’s Day posterior and get to the oven. Don’t ask for whom that bell tolls, Dear Readers – it tolls for thee.


Toll House Pie

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
2 eggs
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. (2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c. walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 325. Beat eggs until foamy. Add flour and both sugars; blend well. Add butter. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts and pour mixture into pie shell. Bake for one hour. Cool for a bit before serving.

Friday, February 9, 2007

A (Sad) Tale of Two Pies

In case you have not memorized each tantalizing morsel of these weekly dispatches, let me remind you, Dear Readers, of a few facts:

1) The sour cream apple walnut pie at Little Pie Company rocks
2) The Queen knows how to make a mean apple pie herself
3) The Queen is a flunky, however, when it comes to multi-tasking
4) A good pie can only serve eight at most
5) Lucy, the royal pooch, is one hungry dog

And yes, these points are all salient when it comes to this week’s post, which if I wanted to be trite I might have titled “Recipe for Disaster.”

Here’s the short version: There were to be nine for dinner and since guests who come to dine at the palace expect pie, well, damn it, I needed to make pie. I found a knock-off recipe for the Little Pie Company’s specialty and decided to also make (see #4 above) another apple pie that involved a traditional filling and a cheddar cheese crust. After all, apple pie without some cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze, right? Or so I hear.

It was a busy day. Snow squalls were blowing outside and I had to trek to the grocery store and then take the dirty dog to the groomer. One child was going away for the weekend and needed help getting packed up and delivered to his destination. There were papers to grade and gossipy accounts of Berlusconi, the Naughty Husband, to read. And then of course, there was that little matter of nine for dinner.

But the Queen had it Under Control. She whipped up the crusts for the pies early in the day -- between other tasks -- and managed to peel and slice about eight pounds of apples before making the two separate fillings. In the midst of the hubbub she assembled the pies and did all the other critical cooking things, which left her with only the very important tasks of fluffing her hair and hiding the embarrassing family artifacts before her guests arrived.

The first clue that things weren’t going well presented itself while we were still having drinks. Coming into the kitchen to fetch ice, I found Lucy the Pooch – on her hind legs – at the counter, nibbling at the crust of the cheddar cheese pie. I snatched the pie from her jaws, but alas, there was to be no camouflaging of the damage.



And now we cut to dessert. Or rather, we come to the point where the pies were to be cut. We were still gathered around the dining table, forks in hand. The pies were presented. We started with the cheddar-crusted apple and it was only as I began to slice it that I realized that the interior looked a little . . .milky. Weird. But no matter.

I next cut into the sour cream apple pie, teasing the knife through the crunchy top only to discover that the inside of that pie was not sour cream-y at all. Rather, it looked like an ordinary pie filling.

And then I knew: I’d accidentally switched the fillings. Two recipes at one time were too many for me. And frankly, this Queen is no Dairy Queen: Cheddar cheese crust with sour cream filling is a bit much of a good thing. Plus it looked creepy, like the apples were held together with Elmer’s Glue. And the icing on the cake (to mix metaphors)? The King reported that the cheddar cheese crust tasted like cheese straws. Not that he doesn’t like cheese straws, he tells me. Just not for dessert.


The other pie, however, was pretty good, and since the teenage contingent had fled before dessert was served, there was plenty of it to go round. The filling was sweet and simple and the topping was crumbly, buttery, and crisp. It was, perhaps, the best we could hope for at that point, an amalgam of both pie recipes, a true American hybrid. This, my friends, became our Prius of Pies.


Apple Pie with a Crunchy Top

Pastry dough for a single crust pie

6-7 large eating apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 T. lemon juice
1 c. sugar
1/3 c. flour
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt

1/4 light brown sugar
1/4 dark brown sugar
1 stick butter, chopped up
1 T. light corn syrup
1/2 c. flour
3/4 c. walnuts, finely chopped

Line pie plate with pastry, chill until filling is made. Toss sliced apples with lemon juice. Mix together sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt and add to apples. Mix gently and spoon into pie shell. Make topping by putting sugars, butter, corn syrup, and flour into food processor and blending. Stir in walnuts. Press clumps of topping between your hands and lay flattened layer atop pie, patching to cover the surface. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes; reduce heat to 350 and cook for another 35 minutes.


Friday, February 2, 2007

When Life Gives You Lemons

Is it possible to be a little bit crestfallen? If so, I am. Disappointment, lemon tart is thy name.

Oh, I was so hoping for fabulous, Dear Readers. I wanted to offer you a glorious sunny treat to illuminate these dank and dingy days of winter. I planned on a tangy citrus twist that would pucker you up in preparation for Cupid and all the amorous days ahead. I’d hoped for a silken, velvety morsel that would glide across your tongue before melting down your throat, arriving cozily in your tummy with lemony good cheer.

I at least wanted to get what I was promised.

After all, I’d heard terrific things about Dorrie Greenspan and her fat cache of recipes, Baking, From My Home to Yours. A week ago, I’d even tried her jumbo carrot cake, a dessert that practically required a forklift to hoist from counter to table.

Carrot Cake

(It was good, but no, I’m not reprinting the recipe. Pie blog, remember?)

I’d been given the book as a Christmas gift and couldn’t wait to premiere one of the many pies and tarts featured within. The choice was easy. I’m a sucker for grand pronouncements and the cookbook’s build-up of this recipe (concocted by Pierre Herme, “France’s king of pastry”) was enormous. From its title: “The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart” to Ms. Greenspan’s description of it: “the ne plus ultra of the lemon world. . .a stroke of culinary magic," the tart seemed to call out my name.

How could I possibly resist? Or perhaps more accurately, how could I fail to be disappointed?

Okay, I’ll admit that it’s not exactly bad. In fact, the King declared it very, very good. One kid nibbled at his slice until it was mostly gone, although there was no real enthusiasm present; the other tasted it and then scooped only the whipped cream into his mouth, announcing that he didn’t really like creamy tart-things anyway. I’d give it a grade in the range of B – tasty, if a bit eggy (yes, well, the filling does contain 4 eggs, duh) -- and frankly, a hell of a lot of work.

Lemon Tart

I tend to resist concoctions that require thermometers and super-precise timing and temperatures. Just part of a general aversion to things numerical and mathematical, I suppose, but it preys upon my suspicions that my thermometer isn’t calibrated correctly and that the whole thing is going to flub. Predicting disaster, a friend calls it. Well, this recipe requires you to bring it to temperature not only once but twice. And then you whip it at high speed until the grinding noise of the blender nearly drives you mad and you imagine the machine’s motor threatening to smoke and blow up. (Predicting disaster, take two.) And even when that doesn’t quite happen, you can’t help but feel that niggling little sensation of doubt. And it turns out, you’re right. This, my friends, is certainly not the ne plus ultra of the lemon world.

If you really want to see some fine specimens of Parisian lemon tarts, take a look at this post, “What is the best lemon tart?” from the lovely blog, Paris Breakfasts. The shocking news, though? The winner of that contest was the very same Pierre Hermes (co-creator of this week’s lemon tart). Quel mystere!

You deserve better, dear Readers. So, for the mere price of a business-class ticket, I’ll get to the bottom of this. I promise. It seems that The Queen of Tarts has a few questions for the so-called King of Pastry. . . (Perhaps the first question: Could we possibly be related?)

More Lemon Tart

The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart
Adapted from Baking, From My Home to Yours

For filling:
1 c. sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
¾ c. fresh lemon juice (from 3-4 large lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces, at room temperature

For sweet tart dough:
1 ½ c. flour
½ c. confectioners’ sugar
¼ t. salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Make filling: Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Put sugar and zest in a large heatproof bowl that can be set over the simmering water. Off heat, rub sugar and zest together with your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice. Set the bowl over the pan of water and start stirring with the whisk. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees. Whisk constantly to keep eggs from scrambling. The cream will thicken as it begins to approach 180; this means the cream is almost ready. As soon as it reaches 180 degrees, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of a blender or food processor. Discard the lemon zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees (about 10 minutes). Turn the blender to high (or turn the food processor on) and with the machine running, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape sides as needed to make sure butter is incorporated. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going; you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. According to Greenspan, “If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.” Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. (Will keep in fridge for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw in refrigerator overnight before using.)

For tart shell: Put flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until butter resembles coarse flakes. Stir the yolk and add it a little at a time, pulsing. When the egg is in, process in long 10 second increments, until the dough forms clumps. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead it lightly – just to incorporate dry ingredients. Butter a 9-inch tart pan with removeable bottom. Press dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes before baking. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375. Butter a piece of aluminum foil, press buttered side down against the crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove foil. Continue cooking for another 8-10 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to a rack and cool.

When ready to assemble tart, whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the cooled tart shell.

Serve with whipped cream.