Friday, April 27, 2007

Have a Seat

When I announce the name of this week’s pie, you must promise to restrain yourselves, dear readers. We’ll have no frenzy of excitement, no frothing at the mouth, no clawing at the keyboard to print the recipe. Everybody sitting down? Okay, then, hold on. . .

Buttermilk Pie.

April 27c

You think I’m kidding? I’m aware that there are those of you who are right this minute making frowny faces and preparing to turn the page. (Or whatever its digital equivalent.) But I promise you that that would be a big mistake, for this is the perfect recipe – nay, the perfect antidote -- for the tumultuous times we live in. So stay put.

A kissin’ cousin to the custard pie, buttermilk pie entreats you –in a calm and soothing tone – to pull up a chair and sit a spell. It begs to invite your neighbor Earl over, to plug in the percolator, and to settle in for a long chat. Preferably on a wide front porch with a creaky swing and a dog named Buster nearby.

As enticing as Buttermilk Pie sounds (well, at least to some of us), I’ll admit that it’s really nothing fancy. It’s sweet yet tangy, buttery but not rich. If you’re craving white chocolate macadamia caramel decadence with a dollop of crème fraiche and a swirl of raspberry coulis, then scat. You’d not be happy on this porch anyway. Go find a bungee cord to dangle from.

Also related to the New England Chess Pie (“‘jess pie, that’s all”), Buttermilk Pie is an old southern favorite. This is the sort of thing they were probably serving at those lunch counters in the 60’s, with a dash of civil rights on the side.

While we’re on the subject, it just so happens that the King went in search of buttermilk at the local convenience store so that I could make this pie. The store is operated by Turkey Hill, a large Lancaster County dairy producer, and it carries a full line of dairy and ice cream products. So chances are, they’d have buttermilk, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong. The clerk looked at the King like he’d worn his crown out in public and then practically snickered at the question. “You must be from the South, huh? Buttermilk, jeez.” (For the record, the King is from the South, albeit Southern California. So jeez yourself, Mr. Turkey Hill Store Clerk. And no, you may not have a piece of pie.)

April 27b

Buttermilk Pie
Adapted from Country Cooking

pastry for a one crust pie
3 eggs
1 c. sugar
2 T. flour + 1 t. flour
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 c. buttermilk
1 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325. Roll out pie crust and place in pie plate. (Here, for your viewing pleasure is one of my pretty plates. I collect them, you know. The Queen believes you can never have too many pie plates. Or pies, for that matter.)

April 27a

Lightly beat eggs and add sugar and 2 T. flour. Add melted butter and stir well. Add buttermilk and vanilla, mixing. Sprinkle 1/2 t. flour over bottom of crust. Pour filling into shell and then sprinkle remaining flour on top.
Bake until custard is set, approximately 1 hour.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

In Memoriam

A recipe from the Amish, another community that knows about tragedy.

Funeral Pie
Adapted from

Pastry for double crust pie
1/2 c. brown sugar
3 T. cornstarch
1/2 t. ground allspice
2 T. (1/4 stick) butter
1 T. cider vinegar
2 c. raisins, seedless
2 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
Speck of salt
1 t. orange rind, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the piecrusts and line pan with half. In a medium saucepan, simmer the raisins and 2/3 cup of water over medium heat for 5 minutes. In a bowl, combine sugars, cornstarch, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Gradually stir in the remaining 1 1/3 cup water. Add to the raisins, stirring until the mixture bubbles up.Add the vinegar, butter and orange rind and continue cooking until the butter melts. Cool mixture until it is almost lukewarm. Pour into unbaked shell. Top with second crust and cut decorative holes in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake 25 minutes. Cool completely.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Fear No Tarte

Dear Readers, I did something this week that I’ve been afraid to do.

No, I didn’t jump from an airplane into the sky, nor did I ask for a raise, pet a python, or get on the scale. What I did was…drum roll…make a tarte tatin.

Apr 12 b

The quintessential French apple pie, tarte tatin has always seemed daunting to me. While I’m fairly comfortable with a number of other complex cooking operations, I can explain my concern regarding this delicacy in one word: unmolding. The process involves caramelizing apples and then covering them with pastry dough. The whole concoction is baked and then – after removing it from the oven – is flipped so that the crust lies on the bottom and the apples nestle cozily together on top. The photographs in cookbooks present a glossy, burnished version of an upside-down pie. But I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t going to be quite as easy as all that.

Well, making a tarte tatin wasn’t easy at all, if you want to know the truth. But the unmolding part was really the least of my concerns. A minor problem involved trying to preserve enough apples when a child was gobbling up the pieces as fast as I could slice them. A major problem involved slightly burnt caramel.

If you’ve ever made caramel you’ll know that you have to work quick like a bunny once it all starts to brown. You stir the sugar and the butter over and over without anything happening and then, finally, it begins to sizzle. Soon your pan is filled with pale brown lava and then, presto! before you know it, it’s done. Or, in this case, maybe a bit too done.

I had a suspicion that was the case but I didn’t want to admit it and I didn’t want to burn my tongue by tasting it and I certainly didn’t want to start over, so I plopped in the apples – Splatter! Ouch! – and continued on with the recipe. Everything else worked beautifully so I kept trying to convince myself that it was just very dark caramel. I even managed to unmold the thing without losing a single apple and it looked quite handsome as it perched upon the platter – handsome in a swarthy sort of way.

Unfortunately, one of the children declared it “interesting.” The other called it “bitter.” That is to say, they both thought it sucked. I didn’t think it was that bad: the pastry was tender and flaky and the apples were juicy and it did hold together very nicely. My tarte tatin certainly wasn’t a candidate for this, the Burnt Food Museum (Burnt Food Museum), although it did taste a tiny bit...scorched.

On the bright side, there exists a whole category of people for whom “burnt food” is not a detraction. Apparently, these eaters actually appreciate the unique qualities of carbon-enriched cooking. And fortunately for the Queen, the King is one of them.

Tarte Tatin
Adapted from Julia Child's The Way to Cook

6 Golden Delicious apples
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 ½ c. sugar
6 T. butter, cut into pieces
pastry dough for 1 crust pie

Peel apples, core and cut each apple into 8 slices. Put in bowl with lemon juice and rind and ½ c. sugar. Allow to steep for about 20 minutes, until apples have rendered some of their juices. Drain apples, discarding juice.

To make the caramel, heat a frying pan (a 9-inch cast iron pan works well) over medium high heat with the butter. Stir until the sugar melts and a syrup forms. Careful! It will be molten hot. When light-medium brown, remove pan from the heat.

Arrange apple slices in circular pattern on bottom of pan. Place the rest of the apples on the top, packing them to fit pan. Put pan back on heat, pressing apples down as they soften and cook. Use a baster to coat the apples with the juices. When apples begin to soften, cover pan and cook 10-15 minutes, until juices are thick and syrupy. Take pan off heat and allow to cool slightly.

Apr 12 a

Preheat oven to 425. Roll dough into circle that’s about 1 inch larger than pan. Cut four steam holes into center. Fold dough in half, then again to make a quarter and position it atop apples in pan. Unfold and press overhang down into pan. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until pastry is brown and lightly crisped. Place a serving plate on top of pan and then – carefully! – flip the pan and plate to unmold the tart. Rearrange slices as necessary. Serve hot or warm or cold with ice cream.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Makin' Whoopee

Life in Central Pennsylvania has much to recommend it. For starters, there’s a picturesque quality to the region: On any given Sunday you’ll find the country roads brimming with horse-drawn buggies and the Amish folk that ride inside them. Hex signs wink at you from the sides of crumbling tobacco barns; the rolling fields are filled with rich dark earth and grazing livestock. This charming old town isn’t bad, either, with its row houses, small museums, and – soon – an academy of music designed by none other than fancy-pants architect Philip Johnson.

What else? Well, sometimes, instead of the pervasive aroma of manure, the outside air smells like chocolate – or Twizzlers – thanks to an abundance of candy manufacturers. And it’s always possible to feel connected: Your child’s pediatrician is likely to be your next-door neighbor and also the person in the pew behind you at church. The person perching on the next bicycle at spinning class is a favorite high school teacher; later you’ll see him down the aisle at the local theater company’s opening night performance. Six degreees of separation? More like two around here. Sometimes this all feels comfortable and cozy.

So what if Wikipedia deems Central Pennsylvania an “exclave” of Rednecks? Heck, we have a great Indian restaurant in town and a couple of Vietnamese places, too. Starbucks has recently decided we’re worthy of its presence and there are even a couple of CraigsLists for the region. Trader Joe’s, consider yourself invited.

Now you might be wondering, Dear Reader, where exactly this travelogue is going. Has the Queen been hired to promote the region to her legions of fans? Well, not exactly. (Although by now you must surely be planning a visit?) One thing I haven’t yet mentioned – and one of the best things about living here – is the proliferation of farmers’ markets. Local produce and farmstand-quality meats and dairy products abound; fresh baked goods are considered household staples. While the selection varies from cinnamon breads and rice krispee treats to local delicacies like snickerdoodles and shoofly pie, almost all of these bakery stands feature the epitome of Pennsylvania Dutch goodies … wait for it … the Whoopee Pie.


I’ll confess that I’ve never much liked Whoopee Pies, although based on the quantities – and varieties (chocolate, red velvet, pumpkin, peanut butter) – that sell around town, I must be in the minority. The version that appears below is not quite the standard, although personally I find it much more appealing. The “cookie” part is like a fudge brownie and the inside filling is nothing more than a partially-toasted marshmallow.

Now you don’t need to tell me that marshmallows aren’t exactly pure and natural, but in this concoction they seem sweetly innocent. They are, at any rate, less insidious than the shortening-based “crème” that is stuffed into the original. If you wanted to be really “gourmet” you could fill them with a spoonful of homemade whipped cream, but trust me, you’d be veering far, far away from the farmers’ market standard. Heck, your Whoopee Pie might even be designated “exotic,” something that’s not exactly a complimentary term hereabouts.


Whoopee Pie

Adapted from Food Network Kitchens

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
4 oz. semisweet chocolate
½ c butter
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 c. flour
¼ c. cocoa powder
½ t. baking powder
¾ t. salt
18 large marshmallows

Preheat oven to 375. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.

Melt chocolates and butter together together, either by microwaving (stir every 30 seconds until melted) or over very low heat in a saucepan. Stir until well combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Stir into chocolate and butter mixture and mix until smooth. In another bowl sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and slat together. Gradually whisk dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture, just until thoroughly moistened. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of batter onto cookie sheets, spacing approximately 1-inch apart. Try to get 36 cookies. Bake approximately 6 minutes, just until cookies spring back when lightly touched. Cool cookies slightly, before moving half of them to a rack. Flip the remaining cookies so that the flat sides face up. Place a marshmallow on top of these 18 cookies and return pan to the oven. Let them bake 3 more minutes, just until marshmallows begin to soften. Remove from oven, cool slightly, and top with the remaining cookies, pressing lightly to make sandwiches. Cool completely on wire racks.

P.S. Lucy the Royal Pooch is on the mend. Her surgery for a ruptured ACL was successful and she’s expected to return to her food-stealing ways very soon. Note to file: Stash the Whoopee Pies!