Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Strawberry Lemon Chiffon Pie

The unique items that I encounter in these decades-old cookbooks have definitely been the most entertaining, if not always appetizing, thing about researching for this blog.  For example, can I interest you in a Satan's Velvet Robe cake, whatever that is?  (Best part being that I found it in a church cookbook.)  Or perhaps some Shady Lady Pie, which somehow manages to combine marshmallows, instant coffee and orange jello?  Whether or not they are combined successfully is anyone's guess.  What about some wedding ring salad, a jello mold with peaches and maraschino cherries which the author instructs you to unmold onto lettuce leaves and serve with mayonnaise?  I hear it's the perfect accompaniment to goofy burgers, an amalgamation of chopped ham, stuffed olives and hard cooked eggs that you adhere together with salad dressing and chili sauce.  Seriously. The author of this one even added a footnote--SUPER GOOD!--to try to entice all the leery, wide-eyed readers who skim through and ponder, "what in the hell?"  I would say you can't make this shit up, but clearly someone did.  

But quite a few things in my old cookbooks are ubiquitous, too.  Open any book, for example, and you'll find a recipe for various forms of nut bread, or layer cakes, or cheesecakes, or sugar cookies, or jello salads.  Or, as we've previously discussed, donuts. The last time I flipped through a bunch of my books, another commonly recurring item that jumped out at me was chiffon pies.  Our culinary ancestors chiffoned the hell out of everything.  Citrus of all kinds, various berries....even pineapple and pumpkin.  And, oh yes, I WILL be revisiting pumpkin chiffon pie in the fall.  Because of course.

I love the idea of a chiffon pie for summer.  I don't know about where you live, but here in the St. Louis area we've had 16 days so far this June--JUNE, mind you--with a high in the 90s.  As a very fat, slow, massively pregnant woman, this vexes me greatly.  It seems high time for something light, fluffy, and cool. I love lemon, and there were many lemon chiffon pie recipes to pick from and craft what I hoped would be an ideal version.  Furthermore, I really liked the idea of combining the lemon with another flavor, because all of the old recipes seemed to feature just one fruit / flavor at a time.  I settled on either strawberry or raspberry, and in the end, the strawberries at the grocery store were gorgeous and affordable, so I said, get in the pie.  Instead of adding the strawberries to the actual chiffon mixture, I started with a bottom layer of a strawberry-lemon concoction that was kind of a jam consistency, and then layered the fluffy chiffon on top. 

I'm dealing with gestational diabetes right now, so I'm not even supposed to be eating desserts, but I'll do this for you, just this once.

Strawberry Lemon Chiffon Pie

You'll need a deep dish 9" pie plate for this recipe.  One of those shallow pyrex plates that come like 3 to a pack would definitely overflow.  Although you could do just the lemon chiffon layer in a plate that size and be fine, if you don't feel like / aren't interested in the strawberry lemon layer.  This dessert can be made entirely without turning on your oven.  I baked my crust for a few minutes, but I'm pretty sure the world would keep turning if you used your crust unbaked if you just didn't feel like heating up the oven.


1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs  (somewhere around 10 to 12 whole graham crackers, but you should measure after you grind them up to make sure)
3 Tbs. sugar
5 Tbs. melted butter

Process all 3 ingredients in a food processor until well combined.  Dump into a deep dish pie plate and press into the bottom and up the sides.  If desired, bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees. If not, throw it in the freezer to firm up a bit while you move on with the fillings.

Strawberry Lemon Layer

3 cups chopped strawberries
1 cup sugar, plus a Tbs. or 2 for sprinkling on berries
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3 to 4 medium lemons)
4 Tbs. cornstarch

Sprinkle the strawberries with a little sugar--about a Tablespoon or two--to get them macerating.  Let them sit for a bit until they're looking juicy.  Once your crust is cooling, (or chilling, as appropriate) process the strawberries in a food processor until pureed.  Pour the puree through a fine strainer to remove any seeds and solids.  Combine the strawberry puree and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan.  Discard the strawberry solids.  Whisk the cornstarch into the lemon juice and then slowly whisk the lemon mixture into the strawberry puree.  Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for about a minute while whisking; it will thicken quite a bit.  Remove from the heat and pour into the prepared crust.  Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the warm mixture and chill while you drive on with the next step.

Lemon Chiffon Layer

1 Tbs. unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3 to 4 medium lemons)
1 tsp. grated lemon zest

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and set aside.  In a double boiler, or in a heat proof bowl over a pan of water, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/2 cup of sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Bring the water to a low boil and whisk the lemon / egg yolk mixture constantly until thickened.  Add the gelatin to the lemon mixture and whisk it in until completely dissolved.  Remove the heat and chill briefly until it thickens a little more.  Do not let it chill too long on this step or the gelatin will totally set up and you'll have trouble folding the egg whites into it.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk the egg whites until frothy.  Slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar to the egg whites and continue beating until the whites form stiff peaks.  Fold the beaten egg whites into the slightly chilled lemon / gelatin mixture until well combined and no streaks remain.  Retrieve the pie from the fridge and dollop the chiffon mixture over the strawberry-lemon jam layer.  Smooth the chiffon layer out with a spatula and chill the pie until set, a few hours.  Serve with whipped cream.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Apple Pie

Grocery shopping at a commissary on a military post can be interesting sometimes.  There are the unique international products and ingredients that families get hooked on when they are stationed overseas in Germany or Korea.  There are the people who apparently only shop every 3 months or so, dragging a convoy of 2 or 3 heaping cartloads of food.  There are products that appear out of the blue one day and are gone, never to be seen again, the next time you go in.  And there is often an extreme "hit or miss" quality to many things.  My current commissary will occasionally just not have any chicken for days on end.  Like, not one piece, anywhere.  When it finally gets restocked, or is rumored to be restocked soon, someone usually posts about it on the spouse's Facebook page; a chicken forecast, as it were.  Right before we moved here, our commissary had just finished a very extensive remodeling of the deli, and then all of a sudden it closed completely for several months because of some kind of issue with a vendor contract.

The produce is probably the biggest hit or miss item, though.  Some days it's gorgeous and plentiful.  Other days it looks like someone left it in the sun for a few days before putting it on display.  So while I always prepare a weekly menu and a list, I try to be flexible when I go there, because you never know what's waiting for you.  A few days ago I walked in to one of the pleasant produce surprises: beautiful Jonagold apples for 99 cents a pound.  I took just a few home, and my daughter, Violet, and I devoured them.  So crisp and juicy.  Sweet like candy.  All those adjectives that describe the best fall apples.  In January.  In the middle of winter, when really good fresh fruit seems like a distant memory.  A few days later I sent Marc back to the store with instructions to get 4 or 5 big bags to make apple sauce and stewed apples for canning, and I think he brought back about 35 lb.  Seeing all of those lovely, shiny apples reminded me--my last apple pie was really disappointing.  It was time to set that right.

I think every family has certain foods that they associate with specific relatives, whether that's for good reasons or bad.  For instance, Marc associates jello dishes with his grandma, and that doesn't always mean a fond food memory, if I can be diplomatic about it.  Well, in my family, apple pie means my Aunt Linda.  And luckily, it's a really good food memory.

Aunt Lin's advice for addressing my tragic pie situation was that it was all about the apples; you have to have good apples, she said.  Jonathan is the only variety she ever uses.  I already knew I had great apples, and Jonagold are part Jonathan, and good for cooking, so I figured that was a pretty good place to start.  From there, Aunt Lin told me that she just wings it, layering apples with flour, sugar and cinnamon.  That was pretty much the extent of her counseling, so I took it from there, but this recipe is, in fact, more of a method than a real recipe.

I may have mentioned before, I don't really like pie crust.  I don't like eating it, which is, I assume, why I don't really like making it either.  But it's also one of those things that I keep trying to master, because I feel like a good home cook should be able to make a decent pie from scratch.  I'm happy to report that I made a damn good pie crust this time.  Even *I* thought it was great.  And maybe what I'm most proud of is that the pie as a whole turned out awesome, even with my 2 year old "helping" me.  Which is to say that, in some ways, she really did help by doing things like throwing the sliced apples into a bowl, but more often she was creating extra challenges by, say, attempting to throw half chewed apple slices into the bowl when she decided she was done with them, sprinkling WAY too much sugar in one spot, or sticking her finger through the pie dough as I was rolling it out.

Two year olds aside, I find that a good pie is really not that easy of a thing to make, but I feel like I took a huge step forward with this beauty.  Maybe someday I can take over my family's Apple Pie Queen crown when my aunt is ready to relinquish it.

Pastry for 2-Crust Pie

Make sure your butter, shortening and water are all very cold.  I usually cut up the shortening and butter into little cubes, spread it on a plate and then throw it in the freezer for 10 minutes or so.  Also, you can use a manual method for cutting in the shortening and butter, like a pastry blender, or 2 knives, but I'm way too lazy for that nonsense.

2 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. sugar
1/4 cup shortening, cut into cubes
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into cubes
5 or 6 Tbs. ice water

Put the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse several times to combine.  Sprinkle the pieces of shortening across the flour mixture and pulse several times until well distributed.  Add the butter and pulse it in the same manner as the shortening.  Dump the flour mixture into a bowl and sprinkle in 5 Tbs. of ice water.  Stir the flour mixture until the dough just comes together.  Add another Tbs. of ice water if it is still too dry and crumbly.  Divide the dough into 2 portions, shape in a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until it's very cold and solid, at least 30 minutes.

Apple Pie

I used a big, deep 9 1/2" pie plate.  It took about 8 cups of apples (7 medium apples) to fill it.  Those smaller, thin Pyrex plates that are sometimes sold 3 to a package would probably require 2 or 3 less apples.  That's a guess on my part.  Basically, you want to fill the plate up entirely with apples and have it mounded slightly in the middle.  Jonathan or Golden Delicious--the 2 apples that you cross to get a Jonagold--both make a good pie, too.  With a lot of apple recipes, I've also done a mixture of half Granny Smith, for tartness, and half a sweet variety.  You don't need much nutmeg, but the freshly ground stuff is infinitely better than pre-ground, if you have the gumption to seek it out.

6 or 7 medium apples, peeled and sliced  (See above note)
dash of fresh ground nutmeg
flour, sugar and cinnamon as needed
1 egg white, beaten

Place a sheet pan in the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.  Roll out the bottom pie crust and place it in the pie pan.  I put the bottom crust in the pan and then put it in the fridge to chill while I peeled and sliced the apples.  Spread a layer of apples across the bottom of the crust and sprinkle with nutmeg, flour, sugar and cinnamon.  Only use the nutmeg on this first layer or the flavor will be too strong.  Continue layering apples, flour, sugar and cinnamon until the pan is full and mounded a little.  Roll out the top crust and place it on top, crimping the edges and beautifying them however you choose.  (I did a rope style edge on mine)  Brush the entire top of the pie with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.  Cut several steam vents in the crust.

Put the pie in the oven on the preheated sheet pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden.  Lower the heat to 375 degrees F and rotate the pie.  Bake another 25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack for a few hours before slicing.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  With ice cream.  It's the law.