Sunday, December 20, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24:

'Tis the Season to be Baking!
Oh Come All Ye Faithful Pie Eaters to My Christmas Pie-baking Marathon

(Yes, I'm wearing a sprig of mistletoe in my hair, enabling me to kiss anyone within close proximity. I'm also wearing my Grandmother La June's apron to channel her baking prowess. Granny was a gourmet cook.)

(Blog photos taken by Casey Cranor, myself, Toni Anderson and Alan Murray)

To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose in the kitchen.... a time to don an apron, a time to mix and a time to separate eggs, a time to cast away that pudding which does not set up and a time to wait for what's in the oven to rise, sweeten and turn toasty brown.

Christmas is my season to bake, and this year, a friend and I met to bake pies for six people we care about. What follows are photos of our pie-baking marathon, spanning the creation of six pies in two kitchens, causing two burns and many splotches of chocolate and squash batter down my apron and on the counter, and the transforming of humble pies into something quite unusual and tasty.

Here's Casey Cranor, who took all the photos in Toni's Kitchen and who was rewarded with a pie and a kiss by Toni.(Disclaimer: No men were harmed in the making of this blog post... in fact two of my ex-boyfriends were kissed by Toni during this pie-baking marathon. It IS mistletoe season afterall, and Casey was asking for it!)

Toni Anderson and I have been culinary conspirators for years.

We have the kind of kitchen rapport that sisters share. The cooking always involves some kind of experimentation and typically winds up with one (usually me) dropping something down my apron and pants and onto the floor and Toni cleaning it up. What a great friend to have!!

After we've turned the kitchen into a disaster, one or both of us invariably bursts into spontaneous dance.

Creaming sugar and butter adding baking soda, flour and eggs, then exotic spices and oils sets off a chain reaction... crazy dance moves!

It helps to put on a little Ray Lamontayne.

We started by making dough. I'm not an avid pie baker. It's taken me time to get the knack of getting the dough just right. The secret: don't over-handle, careful with the water and flour and feel free to use LARD.

Pie Crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 cup unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and 1/2 cup lard (use all butter if you prefer.)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 to 8 Tbsp ice water (go easy, mixture should be flaky, not doughy)

Couldn't find a pastry blender and this potato masher didn't work so well. I resorted to a fork.

PIE #1: Taste of Oregon Blackberry and Dark Chocolate Pie FOR: Casey Cranor

When Casey and I first met, he brought me the gift of a French rolling pin. Who does that on a first date? We got to know each other in Oregon while traipsing through prickly brambles cramming fat blackberries into our mouths and wandering along the coast snacking on handfuls of smoked Salmon. I made him this pie to say thanks for your friendship.

Break pieces of your favorite chocolate and scatter them into an uncooked crust. Take 1cup of blackberries, add about 1/4 cup water with 3 T cornstarch mixed in. Add honey or sugar to sweeten to taste. Mash berries and boil till thick.

Take 1 cup of whole berries and mash slightly over top of chocolate.
Pour on the hot blackberry sauce. Cook at 425 degrees till crust browns.

Checking the Pies!

PIE #2: "Going Bananas Over You" Banana Dream Marshmallow Chocolate Chunk Pie
FOR: Aaron (brother) and his favorite girl, Marlena

Marlena and Aaron, I can't fail to mention, yet again, how great my match-making prowess is. I set these two up a year ago and they have been inseperable every since. They're even planning to wed next year. I used fluffy marshmallows because when you're in love, it can feel like you're floating on a cloud; it's the sweetest feeling.

This pie is super sweet too, kind of like Marlena's nicknames for Aaron: Skoy Toy, A-Ron, Hottie Pants and Babe. This pie has two comfort food flavors: melted marshmallows and some of the first foods you eat as a baby, bananas and milk. How could this pie not make you go "Ga Ga!"


Adapted from

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 c milk, scalded
1 c. sugar
4 egg yolks, beaten
4 lg. bananas, sliced
8-12 quartered marshmallows (I'd recommend using less)

You can use a double boiler for this, but I didn't hassle with that... just make sure you stir constantly.
Melt the butter and add cornstarch in water mixture.. Stir in cornstarch. Slowly stir in the hot milk, then add sugar. Cook, stirring frequently for 20 minutes or until thickened.
Stir a small amount of the hot custard into the egg yolks.

Add the 12 quartered marshmallows (again, I'd use less, it's super sweet with 12) to the hot custard. Cook for 2 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat. Arrange the bananas in the bottom of the pie shell. Pour the hot custard over the bananas. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until the custard is set. Cool, and chill until serving. Enjoy!

PIE #3: Don't Squash Peace Pie
FOR: Paul Rawlins, friend, cook, musician, writer, peace pie activist.

Paul admits he's somewhat of a pacifist. Here's his philosophy, "Make pie, not war." Or: "I believe if people cuddled more, they'd kill less."

Paul and I have been friends for at least five years. We've cooked many meals together, followed by hearty singing while he played the guitar and sometimes dancing. Paul's grandma Velma didn't grow pumpkins in her garden, so when Thanksgiving rolled around, she baked pie with whatever squash was on hand over-wintering in the basement. Velma was short, about 5-foot, and so her dutiful and loving husband Owen built the countertops and kitchen sink low so she wouldn't have to strain her back when cooking and cleaning. Owen was a dairy farmer in Cache Valley. For the holidays, Paul recalls eating his granny's squash pie. I wanted to bring him back to those good memories.

From Southern Cooking,

1 unbaked and chilled 9-inch pie shell
1 large butternut squash, cooked and pureed, about 1 1/2 cups pureed squash
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 large eggs
3/4 cup evaporated milk or half and half
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla


To cook squash:
Cut the squash in half lengthwise; remove stem and scoop out the seeds. Place the squash, cut side down, on a foil-lined oiled baking pan; add about 1/2 cup of water to the pan. Cover loosely with foil and bake at 400° for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the squash is tender and can be easily pierced with a fork. Let cool completely then peel and mash or puree the squash or put it through a food mill. Measure 1 1/2 cups of the squash and set aside.

Cool oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl with electric mixer, beat the squash with the brown sugar. Add eggs, evaporated milk, spices salt, flour, butter, and vanilla.

This squash pie batter is smiling! And it has a nutmeg beard!!

Beat until well blended. Pour the filling into the chilled pie and place on the center oven rack. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until set. Serve with a dollop of whipped topping.

PIE #4: Great Outdoors Flaming Shmore Chocolate Pudding Pie
FOR: Wilderness Lover and Mother, Ann Gates Weaver

Ann is completely in her element with blowtorch in hand roasting marshmallows on the top of this pie I made for her to remember the good old days when she could go camping whenever she wanted. Now she has two young children and it's more difficult to get away. Here we are in her parent's front yard, but for a moment, we're transported to the wilderness and forget about the awful inversion hanging over Salt Lake City.

I made this pie to remind her of camping in the wilderness- a place where, like me, she feels most at home.

I used a few dark chocolate bars of Endangered Species chocolate to make this. This is one of my favorite pudding pie recipes, I've made this a dozen times.

I highly recommend using bars of Amano Artisan Chocolate in your pudding pie. For Thanksgiving, I made this recipe with $20 of Amano chocolate from the Ocamare valley in Venezuala. The pie had a reddish brown hue and the taste was fruity, exotic, earthy and what real chocolate was meant to taste like. I dream about this pie.

Be sure to stir constantly or your pudding will get lumpy.

Black-Bottom Chocolate Pie
Bon App├ętit

Filling (chocolate pudding)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
6 large egg yolks
2 cups low-fat (1%) milk
6 ounces of favorite bitterweet chocolate ( I used Endangered Species Chocolate. I also recommend AMANO artisan chocolate.)
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Filling:
Whisk first 4 ingredients in heavy medium saucepan to blend. Whisk in egg yolks to form thick paste. Gradually whisk in milk, then cream. Whisk over medium-high heat until mixture thickens and boils 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk in rum and vanilla. Cool 5 minutes, whisking occasionally. Transfer filling to frozen crust. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Add crushed graham crackers to the top of this chocolate pudding cake, toast them then cover in marshmallows and toast the marshmallows until golden brown.

PIE #5: Toni's Sista's Sour Cream Blueberry Birthday Cheesecake
FOR: Toni's sister Robyn

Toni made this cheescake for her sister Robyn's birthday. Toni is the youngest of six sisters. Her oldest sis is 14 years her senior. Robyn has a generous spirit and Toni says is the kind of sister who can always be counted on to come to her aid when she's in need. The two love to sing Karaoke together and somedays even stay up till the wee hours of the morning singing their hearts out to their favorite tunes such as Cindy Lauper's Time after Time.

Adapted from

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 12 whole graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

1 16-ounce container sour cream


For crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap 3 layers of foil around outside of 8- to 8 1/2-inch-diameter springform pan with 3-inch-high sides. Butter pan. Stir first 3 ingredients to blend in medium bowl. Mix in butter until moistened. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1 1/2 inches up sides of prepared pan. Bake just until set, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Maintain oven temperature.

For filling:
Place cream cheese, 2/3 cup sugar, eggs, lemon juice, and lemon peel in processor; blend well.

Spoon custard into crust; smooth top. Carefully spoon filling over. Set cheesecake in large baking pan. Add enough hot water to baking pan to come 1 inch up sides of cheesecake pan. Bake until almost set but not puffed and center moves slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir sour cream and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl to blend.

Carefully spoon sour cream mixture over hot cheesecake; smooth top. Bake until topping sets, about 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Run knife around sides of pan to loosen. Cool cheesecake completely. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Add blueberries or other fruit when the cheesecake is completely cooled.

PIE #6: Gift of the Magpie Quince Apple Pie
FOR: Amy (My sister), Chuck and her kids

Amy's my older sister, just a year and a month older than me, so we've been through a lot together. Christmas always brings back childhood memories of making snow angels together, wearing matching robin-egg blue down parkas to walk in sub-zero temps to the school bus, and watching Amy pull on 3 pairs of socks and stuff my Dad's old iceskates with tissue paper so she could skate like an Olympic star on the frozen puddle in our yard. I rememeber coming in from the cold to fresh oven cookies, rosettes and cream-filled sandbuckles and then pulling on our matching flannel nighties and watching them make sparks in the dark of our room because we were too poor to buy fabric softner.

I feel like I'm a kid again when I'm around Amy and her beautiful, rambunctious kids.

I love you Amy! I made her this pie because she and her family are moving to Pennsylvania in three days.
"When will you come back?" I asked her today.
"Not until a funeral" she said. My sister is very frugal and so I half-believe her, but hope she's really kidding.
"We'll come back for a funeral only if we have frequent flyer miles," Chimed in her husband with a smile.

When I delivered the pie to Amy and her family, I told the kids a story about the pie. I like to make up stories to tell my nieces and nephews. Here's the story:


Once upon a time there was a mother who had lost her husband. She had two young children and no money. She was very poor and very sad because Christmas was coming and she didn't know what she would give to her children. She wanted so much to bake something delicious for them. One night, when her children were fast asleep, she went outside in the front yard because she couldn't sleep. She looked up and saw three beautiful stars shining in a row above her head.

She made a wish on those stars; a wish that she could find a way to give her children something good for Christmas.

The she went back to bed and fell right asleep. When she woke the next morning, she heard an unusual tapping sound outside. Was it someone at her door? She listened again. Who was there? Maybe it was just the bill collector she couldn't pay, she said to herself, and put her head back down on the pillow. She closed her eyes and heard the tapping again, but this time, she realized it was at the window. She jumped out of bed and went to her window, pulling up the blinds. Outside she saw a bird, perched on her windowsill with a piece of fruit in her beak. The bird flew away, leaving the fruit behind. It came again, bringing back another piece.

The bird had given her two pieces of fruit that looked like fat round pears. These fruit were called quince. The mother was so happy. She thought: "Now I can make a pie out of this fruit." Later that day, while she was in the backyard, she looked on the ground and saw three yellow apples that had fallen off the neighbor's tree. She picked them up and put them with the quince.

The she went to the basement, where she had a very meager food storage and found some flour and a large container of dark brown honey that was given to her more than 20 years ago.

The honey had caramelized, but she knew that honey was still good after many years, so she could use it to make her pie. So she stayed up late that night, cooking a pie that her children would never forget.

That Christmas, when her children woke up in the morning, they woke to the smell of apple quince pie: a Gift from the Magpie to their mother. They each happily took a slice of gooey rich pie and gave their mother a kiss. Since that Christmas, though their mother had found a job and could afford gifts, every year they made the same apple quince pie to remember the Gift of the Magpie. THE END.

My nephews and nieces loved it. "Is that a true story?" They asked me with wide-eyes. "Yes," I said. "Now have a slice of pie."

(Photo by Alan Murray)

Adapted from All


Two quince, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups water
1 pinch salt

1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie
5 golden delicious apples
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter

(I cut the sugar by 1/4 cup, added apples and then didn't put a top crust on it. I might try it with the top crust next time. It looks a little gooey without it.)


Combine the sliced quince, honey, water, and a pinch of salt in a pan (you should have about nine cups of sliced fruit). Cover the pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low. Simmer, covered, until the fruit is tender, about 8 minutes, stirring carefully once or twice to avoid breaking the fruit.
Put a strainer over a saucepan and pour the cooked quince into a strainer, reserving the cooking liquid. Set the quince aside to cool.

Roll out the pastry and line a 9 inch pie plate. Refrigerate the dough while you prepare the filling.
Combine the white sugar, cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and flour in a small bowl and mix well. Add the sugar mixture and the butter to the reserved quince cooking liquid and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool.

Fill the pastry shell with the 5 apples cut up and peeled. Add the cooked quince then cover with the sauce.

Place a sheet pan on the lowest rack of the oven. Add the top crust, crimping the edge to seal. Cut vents or prick the crust with a fork to allow steam to escape.

Put the pie on the preheated sheet pan and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Bake until the edges of the crust are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and bake until the juices are bubbling and the crust is brown, about 45 minutes more.

On my Christmas wish list for 2010: "Chase Me and Kiss Me in a Wild Huckleberry Patch Amano Chocolate Pie Sprinkled with Fresh-picked Island Park Huckleberries"

P.S. Thank you to the movie, Waitress, for inspiring me to give my pies such wacky names.