Here Come the Cookies

Whenever I go to a bakery/store/restaurant and they have cookies in a glass case, invariably several kinds, I always lean towards the oatmeal ones. I don’t know why. I think it’s because I’m not the hugest chocolate fan (gasps!) and oatmeal usually comes with raisins, and they’re usually really chewy and nice. So when I saw this recipe it piqued my interest. I made oatmeal cookies from the How To Cook Everything cookbook last year, and dammit, they were terrible. It called for 2 (2!!!) teaspoons of baking soda, and the stupid things were so fluffy and weird that I think I threw them out after a few days of Wait Maybe They Just Need Another Day To Congeal……..No. Maybe Just One More Day? Nope. Damn you, Mark Bittman!

But let’s be clear about these cookies…I wanted to try them because they had potato chips in them. Also, I got some dried cherries from Trader Joe’s and I was all jazzed about them. They make raisins look so homely.

jewels!
nature's jewels!

I got this recipe from Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (I know, I already posted a La Brea recipe…fret not, I will be branching out shortly). I cut 2 tbsp of the butter because sometimes I do that and convince myself they are much healthier and taste the same. I guess I just looked at 2 sticks of butter in a total of 20ish cookies and decided that was too much butter per cookie. To be honest, I never plan on making these with the correct amount of butter, so I guess I’ll never know if it made a difference or not.

no match for my powerful elbow grease
no match for my powerful elbow grease

Also, she is NOT KIDDING when she says the batter will be tough to mix when it comes time to add the nuts, fruit, and chips. I had to choke up on the spoon to get anywhere, which resulted in batter all over my arm. I did bother to do her whole “switch the trays from top to bottom and turn them around and touch your nose and rub your stomach and pat your head” routine. I don’t know if it works but it keeps you occupied.

shaped and squished
shaped and squished
ready to eat
ready to eat

All in all, the cookies are nice and chewy. The potato chips are interesting, but the cherries steal the show. They are oatmeal cookies. They are unspectacular, but I will always choose them in the glass case.

OH, but if you are here for decadence….stay tuned. We’ll talk 3 1/2 sticks of butter in the next recipe. Do you need a visual?

avert your eyes!
avert your eyes!

I told you so.

Key Largo Oatmeal Cookies

4 oz salted potato chips
6 oz (1 1/2 cups) walnuts
2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 packed cups light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups old-fashioned (not instant) oatmeal
5 oz (1 cup) raisins
5 oz (1 cup) dried pitted sour cherries

Adjust 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat to 350˚. Line cookie sheets with baking parchment or aluminum foil, shiny side up, and set aside.
Place the potato chips in a plastic or paper bag and squeeze the bag a few times to break the pieces just a bit; they should be coarse, not fine. They should measure 2 packed cups. Set aside.
Break the walnuts into large pieces, set aside
Sift together the flour and baking soda; set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter until soft. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat until mixed. Add the eggs and beat to mix. Then add the sifted dry ingredients and beat on low speed only until incorporated. Add the oatmeal and beat to mix. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
Transfer the dough to a larger bowl. With a heavy wooden spatula stir in the raisins, cherries, and nuts. Finally stir in the potato chips. The chips should still be visible. This takes a strong arms and some heavy stirring.
Each cookie should be made of 1/4 cup of dough.
Place a large piece of aluminum foil next to the sink and place the mounds any which way on the foil. Then wet your hands under cold water, shake them off but do not dry them, and with your damp hands roll a mound of dough into a ball, flatten it to about a 3/4 inch thickness, and place it on a lined sheet. Continue to shape the cookies and place them 2 inches apart.
Bake 2 sheets at a time for 18 to 20 minutes, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back twice during baking.
Let them cool briefly, then with a wide spatula transfer them to racks to cool.

Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Dough

This is my be-all-end-all pie crust. I can’t bring myself to ever use shortening, and I think this is better than an all-butter crust. The cream cheese gives it some tang. It’s super easy to roll out and shape.

marbly-goodness
marbly-goodness

1/8, give or take
1/8", give or take

Basically it’s all you want for every sweet pie you ever make. I like to pinch my crusts, but there are a million ways to crimp them—using forks, etc. I think the ol’ thumb and forefinger of one hand against the thumb of the other creates a nice little wave.

ready to be filled
ready to be filled

I use the “Food Processor” method but instead I put it in my KitchenAid with the paddle attachment. Sometimes the flour explodes out, but mostly I think this works just fine. I’ve also heard grating the frozen butter in using the largest holes on a cheese grater gets them down to a small size easily so you don’t have to waste your time with 2 knives or a pastry cutter. Rose fusses–a LOT. There’s a lot of freezing things that I skip if I can. To be honest, I don’t really notice much of a difference if I didn’t freeze the bowl before I mix the ingredients. So, you can be obsessive about it if you want, and I’m sure your pie crusts will be divine. I choose to ignore what I want. Environmentally, I save a ziploc bag or 2 every time I make a crust my way instead of Rose’s….so that’s all the justification I need to be lazy.

Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust
from The Pie and Pastry Bible

Pastry for a 9-inch pie shell or a 9 1/2- or 10- by 1-inch tart shell

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon pastry flour or 1 cup (dip and sweep method) bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (for savory recipes, use 1 1/2 times the salt)
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, cold
  • 1 tablespoon ice water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Pastry for a 9-inch lattice pie, a 9-inch deep-dish pie, a 10-inch pie shell, or a 12- to 14-inch free-form tart

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 1/3 cups + 4 teaspoons pastry flour or 1 1/3 cups (dip and sweep method) bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (for savory recipes, use 1 1/2 times the salt)
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • one 3-ounce package cream cheese, cold
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Pastry for a two-crust 9-inch pie

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 2 cups + 3 tablespoons pastry flour or 2 cups (dip and sweep method) bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (for savory recipes, use 1 1/2 times the salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 3-ounce packages cream cheese, cold
  • 2 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Preparation

Food processor method:
Cut the butter into small (about 3/4-inch) cubes. Wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it until frozen solid, at least 30 minutes. Place the flour, salt, and baking powder in a reclosable gallon-size freezer bag and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Place the flour mixture in a food processor with the metal blade and process for a few seconds to combine. Set the bag aside.

Cut the cream cheese into 3 or 4 pieces and add it to the flour. Process for about 20 seconds or until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until none of the butter is larger than the size of a pea. (Toss with a fork to see it better.) Remove the cover and add the water and vinegar. Pulse until most of the butter is reduced to the size of small peas. The mixture will be in particles and will not hold together. Spoon it into the plastic bag. (For a double-crust pie, it is easiest to divide the mixture in half at this point.)

Holding both ends of the bag opening with your fingers, knead the mixture by alternately pressing it, from the outside of the bag with the knuckles and heels of your hands until the mixture holds together in one piece and feels slightly stretchy when pulled.

Wrap the dough with the plastic wrap, flatten it into a disc (or discs) and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight. (For a pie shell and lattice, divide it in a ratio of two thirds:one third — use about 9.5 ounces for the shell and the rest for the lattice, flattening the smaller part into a rectangle.)

Hand method:
Place a medium mixing bowl in the freezer to chill.

Cut the butter into small (about 3/4-inch) cubes. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.

Place the flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Add the cream cheese and rub the mixture between your fingers to blend the cream cheese into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. Spoon the mixture, together with the cold butter, into a reclosable gallon-size freezer bag. Expel any air from the bag and close it. Use a rolling pin to flatten the butter into thin flakes. Place the bag in the freezer for at least 10 minutes or until the butter is very firm.

Transfer the mixture to the chilled bowl, scraping the sides of the bag. Set the bag aside. Sprinkle the mixture with the water and vinegar, tossing lightly with a rubber spatula. Spoon it into the plastic bag. (For a two-crust pie, it is easiest to divide the mixture in half at this point.)

Holding both ends of the bag opening with your fingers, knead the mixture by alternately pressing it, from the outside of the bag, with the knuckles and heels of your hands until the mixture holds together in one piece and feels slightly stretchy when pulled.

Wrap the dough with plastic wrap, flatten it into a disc (or discs), and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight. (For a pie shell and lattice, divide it in a ratio of two thirds:one third — use about 9.5 ounces for the shell and the rest for the lattice, flattening the smaller part into a rectangle.)

Store:
Refrigerated, up to 2 days; frozen, up to 3 months.

Understanding
A classic cream cheese crust contains no water and is more tender than an all-butter crust but not at all flaky. I have found it to be so tender it is impossible to use for a lattice top and the bottom crust often develops cracks through which a filling will leak and stick to the bottom of the pan. Very little water is needed, because the cream cheese contains 51 percent water. The addition of a small amount of water connects the two gluten-forming proteins in the flour, producing the rubbery, stretchy gluten that strenghtens the structure just enough to prevent cracking when the crust bakes. This pie crust does not shrink or distort as much as an all-butter crust because there is less development of gluten. The acidity of the vinegar weakens the gluten that forms, making the crust still more tender and less likely to shrink. If desired, it can be replaced with water.

Cream cheese is 51 percent water and 37.7 percent fat, so 3 ounces contain 1.53 ounces (about 3 tablespoons) or water and 1.13 ounces of fat. That means that the pie crust with 6.5 ounces of flour contains the equivalent of about 4 1/2 tablespoons of water. Compared to the all-butter crust, this crust has about 1 tablespoon more water, 1.13 ounces more of fat, and .34 ounce more milk solids. The extra fat in the cream cheese coats some of the proteins in the flour, limiting the development of gluten, which would make it tougher. The milk solids add both flavor and smoothness of texture.

The baking powder lifts and aerates the dough slightly without weakening it, but it also makes it seem more tender.

In developing this recipe, I found that if not using the vinegar and baking powder to tenderize the crust, it is advisable to add one quarter of the butter together with the cream cheese when using all-purpose flour. This helps to moisture-proof it but, of course, takes away a little from the flakiness, as there is less butter available to add in larger pieces to create layers.

It’s Pie Time

Thanksgiving, to me, is all about pies. Christmas can have its cookies, Halloween its candy, and Easter its chocolate… Thanksgiving is the holiday for me. I love a good pie, and even more than that, I love 4 good pies at once, all topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream (unsweetened, please…I like my cream straight up). I used to be able to eat a slice of each after dinner, but the days of overactive metabolisms have passed me by. Now I like to take a tiny sliver of each to equal about 1 1/2 regular slices total. This year my mom and I made 2 types of pumpkin (the differences between which I’ll explain later), a pecan, and my favorite—open-faced designer apple pie.

awaiting their fate...
awaiting their fate. also i think the stapler in the background really pulls this picture together.

I’ve been wanting to try this pie for a while, ever since I bought the Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. It’s not as much work as I originally anticipated and the result is so pretty and delicious. I didn’t have a leaf-cutter and so because I am insane I ended up cutting the leaves out by hand. They look a little wonky, but wonky can be delicious, too. Rose says to make enough dough for a 2-crust pie but I think that is wholly unnecessary. I was making 3 crusts at once and I just used the scraps from each of the 3 and that did it. I’d say probably make 1 1/2 of a 9-in pie dough recipe. Also, make sure to overstuff the pie…seriously, slide those slices in until you think they are going to pop out—they’ll shrink when they bake and you don’t want your apple rose to look deathly ill.

ready to bake!
ready to bake!

The only pain in the ass–pre-baking the crust. I hate pre-baking. It’s not really a big deal, it’s just one of those things that irks me, like putting sheets on a bed. But making the bed never ends with warm apple pie in your mouth, if you know what I mean:

Ta-da!
Ta-da!

Speaking of pre-baking…let’s address the pumpkin pie contest we had going on. I kept seeing all these recipes pop up for new and improved pumpkin pie. “Silky!” “Perfectly-spiced” and “creamy” were oft-thrown-around descriptors. I knew I had to try one–I love silky, perfectly-spiced, creamy things (see: panna cotta). So I eventually chose a recipe from Pastries from La Brea Bakery…it had browned butter and vanilla beas, garnet yams, and cream! All good things! So, the catch. It’s a total pain in the ass recipe. It involves STRAINING pumpkin and yam puree through a sieve (I dislike sieves…see: berry coulis), pre-baking the crust, of COURSE, and many fussy ingredients.

damn you, sieve!
damn you, sieve!

at least there are specks of vanilla
at least there are specks of vanilla

I was rooting for it though. I wanted it to be better, partially to justify the extra hour or so of time it took to make. It seemed like blasphemy to then crack open a can of Libby’s and some evaporated milk and have the regular version in all of 5 minutes flat (and no pre-baking, thank you very much). But alas, the conclusion was that the regular-old from-the-can version was much better. Bah! Don’t get me wrong, they were both good…but the La Brea version barely tasted like pumpkin. It was creamy, but too much so. It was silky, but I didn’t notice much of a difference betwixt the two. The lesson? Never try.

the whole spread
the whole spread

Pumpkin Pie
from Pastries from the La Brea Bakery

1 recipe Pie dough (see my next post for a good one)

For the filling:
2 medium jewel or garnet yams (I used regular old sweet potatoes)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 stick (2 oz) unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean
2 extra-large eggs
1 extra-large egg yolk
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp whole milk
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
3 tbsp light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tbsp brandy
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 very small pinch ground cloves
1 small pinch white pepper

For Garnishing:
2 tbsp milk or water
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
4 to 5 gratings fresh whole nutmeg

Adjust the oven rack to the middle positions and preheat to 400˚F.
Prepare and roll out the pie dough. Chill until ready to use.
To prepare the filling: Place the yams directly on the oven rack and bake them until they are very soft and starting to burst, about 45 minutes to an hour. Allow to cool, remove the skins, and set aside.
Turn the oven to 350˚F.
Blind bake the crust (weighed down) for 25 minutes.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, puree the yams with the pumpkin. Transfer the mixture to a small saucepan. Over medium heat, stirring constantly, allow the moisture to evaporate as the mixture bubbles and cooks, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, begin to melt the butter. Using a small paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise. With the back of the knife, scrape out the pulp and seeds and add scrapings and the pod to the butter. Swirl the pan to ensure the butter cooks evenly and doesn’t burn. Continue cooking about 3 to 5 more minutes, until the bubbles subside and the butter is dark brown and has a nutty aroma. Remove the vanilla bean.
Add the browned butter and dark flecks to the pumpkin-yam mixture and combine. Strain the mixture into a large bowl.
In a medium bowl, whisk the whole eggs, egg yolk, cream, milk, maple syrup, brown sugar, brandy, ginger, salt, cloves, and pepper. Add to the pumpkin mixture, whisking to combine.
Brush the scalloped rim with the milk or water and pour in the filling to just below the rim.
In a small bowl combine the granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Sprinkle the topping over the filling.
Bake for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the filling is set and the crust is nicely browned. When done, the filling should no longer quiver when you gently shake the baking sheet.

Open-Faced Designer Apple Pie
from The Pie and Pastry Bible

coming soon!

Come play!

Well hello there. Welcome to Kat in the Kitch (the name that just slightly edged ‘Trina in the ‘Tchen). This is my first blog post. I just kinda decided to create this blog today….so I’m not exactly sure what it’s going to be like. Unfortunately I’m neither a good writer nor an exceptional baker. What I am is an adventurer and obsessive food decorator–not in the Disney characters on ice cream cakes sense, but in the sense that I think food is beautiful and I like mine to be especially beautiful. I’ll give you some examples of what I’ve done in the past, but my real hope is that henceforth I can capture more of the process so you guys at home can play along.

Tiramisu Cake
Tiramisu Cake

Open-faced Designer Apple Pie
Open-faced Designer Apple Pie

Salt-kissed Buttermilk Currant Tart
Salt-kissed Buttermilk Currant Tart

Cranberry Pecan Frangipane Tart
Cranberry Pecan Frangipane Tart

Plum-Raspberry Upside Down Cake
Upside Down Cake

Pistachio Petit-Fours Cake with Marzipan Mushrooms
Pistachio Petit-Fours Cake with Marzipan Mushrooms

Perfect Party Cake
Perfect Party Cake

Anadama Bread
Anadama Bread

Apple Surprise Bread
Apple Surprise Bread

Apple Cake
Apple Cake

Raspberry-Chocolate-Walut Rugelach
Raspberry-Chocolate Rugelach

Cake decorating class shenanigans
Cake decorating class shenanigans