Perfect Pie Crust

By Emily Stephenson

Photo by Emily Stephenson

Last week, when it was over 100 degrees outside, I had a pie baked by a professional, and even her dough was crumbly (warm butter means crumbly dough). I appreciate that there is a fabulous bounty of fruit available during the summer, the stuff of luscious pie fillings, but hot weather makes getting a perfectly flaky crust difficult.

I didn’t realize this until I started baking my own pies last summer. After more than a few less-than-ideal pie crusts, I did some research beyond the recipe at hand. I’m happy to report that, just like in school, extra-credit work really does pay off.

In honor of the last month of summer, here is the most useful advice I’ve found in pursuit of a perfect pie crust:

  1. After adding a little water to the butter and flour mixture, pinch a bit of it between your fingertips. If it holds together, the dough is ready. While the dough is resting in the refrigerator, the water will continue to hydrate the flour. This way, you’ll use less water than if you were expecting the dough to form a ball, and your crust won’t be tough. (If you have a vacuum sealer, you can see this in action: the difference in texture between when you seal the dough and when you take it out 30 minutes later is pretty incredible. Removing all the air expedites the process.)
  2. Many recipes say the butter should be no larger than pea-sized when cut in, but that doesn’t mean they should be exactly pea-sized. When I first started making dough, I didn’t cut the butter into the flour enough. I had pieces of butter that were too large, which meant I had to use more water to get the dough to come together, and my end result was very tough crust. When you’re cutting in the butter, you’re looking for bits of butter of a variety of sizes, none of them larger than pea sized. This doesn’t matter as much if you are using a food processor, but if you’re cutting in the butter by hand, keep cutting a little more.
  3. Don’t rush the resting time. You can’t over-rest dough (within reason) but you can certainly start working it too soon. Leave it for an hour or more in the refrigerator.

Any other tips I’m missing? I’d love to hear from dedicated summertime pie bakers.

Posted in Baking

Grill Cake

Photo by Emily Stephenson

Inspired by recipe testing we’ve been doing, summer, and not wanting to turn on the oven, I made my first cake on the grill, with great success.

I used the Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe in How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, subbing 2 cups pitted cherries for the pineapple. The batter came together in less than two minutes; I poured it over the brown sugar and cherries scattered over the bottom of a cast iron skillet, and I carried it up to the rooftop, where our barbecue was taking place.

We were using a standard Weber kettle grill, the one pretty much everyone has owned at some point. I tried to wait until the coals had ashed over, but I got impatient and put the skillet directly over the fire before it had hit its peak hotness. (Next time I’ll wait until the coals are fully “ready.”) I closed the lid and cooked it for 15 minutes, then checked on it; it was nowhere near ready, so I closed the lid and set my timer for 10 minutes. When I checked again, I’d say the cake was just slightly overdone, but I had been enjoying myself for those extra 10 minutes and I figured no one would notice.

They did not. The fruit mixture was bubbling around the edges and the crust was crisp and smoky. I flipped it out of the skillet onto a cake plate and let it rest while we cooked and ate the rest of our dinner (also cooked on the grill). In the end, it was the cake everyone was most impressed with. I’m now inspired to grill all my summer desserts: It’s easy, practical (you can do it while the grill is heating up), and delivers impressive results.

– Emily Stephenson

Posted in Baking, Behind The Scenes

Looking Back: Eating Outdoors on #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for past months’ conversations.

This month’s topic gave an inspirational glimpse of how many of you are enjoying your meals al fresco: at cookouts and food trucks, on picnics and in gardens, from NYC to the south of France. No- and low-cook meals seem to be the perfect food in this sweltering heat—that is, when your grills aren’t fired up for searing local produce and pizza.

Here’s just a handful of my favorite ideas from July; keep tagging your posts with #BittmanTopics so I can follow along, and check back here tomorrow for August’s topic:

Happy 4th of July! A photo posted by @lizpotasek on

 

Where—and What—You’re Eating

Alpine provisions {tarte du champsaur} + route planning near Col du Lauteret …

A photo posted by julia spiess (@dinnerswithfriends) on

“Champlain Valley, Vermont. Grilled king salmon, roasted corn, fresh tomatoes with cucumber and balsamic vinegar, baby summer squash.” –@cckinvt

“Central Park’s Great Hill; fresh fruits, homemade hummus, pretzels, pearl couscous salad, wild rice and grape salad, lemon cookies.” –@reinamaureen

“Gazpacho andaluz, made with fresh farmers market ingredients, garnished with melon and micro mustard greens!” –@lornina

“On our courtyard, watching the sunset over Santa Monica Bay, with great food, great wine and great friends!” –Ann Carley Johnson, Facebook

“My garden. Eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers every possible way from around the Mediterranean. Lots of feta and lots of fruits. It’s that time of year.” –Clio Tarazi, Facebook

“Aix en Provence, South of France. Watermelon and feta salad !” –@kadee_jah

“Lobster roll on Nantucket” –@sjadad27

“Neighborhood food truck – woodfired pizza in our backyard! #ilovepittsburgh #driftwoodoven” –@leahnorthrop

“LOVE summers in Truro, eating outdoors as the grill master (usually me) finishes the last touches, Chicago-style hotdogs, several amazing summer salads and delicious local craft beer! Throw in some local seafood = Grand Perfection! Cheers, Mark Bittman!” –PiaDora PiaDora, Facebook

 

Cold Soups

Dinner #alfresco at the Lake House #bittmantopics #yyc #amazing #SummerWeather A photo posted by City Palate (@citypalate) on

Lots of interest in this genre—no surprise—during the #BittmanTopics tweetchat:

“what is your favourite summer cold soup? I love de gazpacho of course & vichychoisse.” –@riucafe

“i gotta go off-topic. just made this gazpacho: almonds, almond milk, cukes, grapes, mint, oil, lemon… sorta ugly. but really delicious. and drinking it outside so it counts.” –@bittman

“.@bittman Just had a version of this at @contigosf, but w white garlic & no mint. Very tasty. Do you blend almonds? Presoak?” –@PlantAndPlate

“.@PlantAndPlate forgot. i used a touch of garlic too. and roasted almonds. no soaking. but used almond milk.” –@bittman

@bittman I LOVE a cold cucumber soup- we make a Bulgarian version w walnuts a la Joy of Cooking” –@deb2525

“That gazpacho sounds perfect to take along. Many Bay Area picnic opportunities are in places where flames would not be good.” –@EyeEmEff

Sour cherry crisp made on the grill! 👌🍒 Great way to celebrate summer fruit

A photo posted by Civil Eats (@civileats) on

 

Low-Cook Summer Meals

Another hot topic during our tweetchat—very fun bouncing around ideas with all of you:

Discussing the shape of the chickpea. #picnicinthepark #chickpeas #garbanzobeans

A photo posted by reinamaureen (@reinamaureen) on

“.@bittman I don’t have a grill (apt dweller) – what are some ways to prepare my abundance of summer squash?” –@stephestellar

“.@stephestellar slice zucchini thin. saute in oil. toss with mint, raw egg (like 1 per 2 servings), parm. so great.” –@bittman

@bittman What is your go-to summer vinaigrette/marinade/sauce for all those salads and no/low-cook meals?” –@NeedleInHay

“.@NeedleInHay You’re all going to hate this answer. Ready? Olive oil, lemon, and salt. Maybe pepper.” –@bittman

coffee ice cubes and otherworldly rocks. go utah. #BittmanTopics

A photo posted by Rémy Robert (@remyrobert) on

HTCE Fast: Skillet Fruit Crisp

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The essence of a crisp — sweet, tender fruit and a crunchy buttery topping — done quickly on the stovetop. Soft fruit cooks faster, but you can use firm fruit like apples: Just sauté them a bit longer, but it won’t take much more time.

Skillet Fruit Crisp

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
2 pounds peaches, bananas, berries, or any combination
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
1 lemon
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

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Posted in American, Baking, Mark Bittman Books, Produce, Recipes

HTCE Fast: Molten Chocolate Cake

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Every other Wednesday, I’m featuring one of my favorite recipes from How to Cook Everything FastIf you cook it, too, I want to see it—tag it on social media with #HTCEFast. And enjoy!

A four-star dessert that bakes in less than 10 minutes.

1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the ramekins
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
4 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting the ramekins

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Posted in Baking, Mark Bittman Books, Recipes

Pâte à Choux

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A friend who almost never cooks recently made gougères — baked puff pastries with cheese. “I could not believe how easy that was,” he told me. In fact, I can’t think of anything as impressive that needs so little work.

The secret to gougères — and cream puffs, profiteroles, éclairs, even churros — is pâte à choux (paht-ah-SHOO), a dough that’s endlessly useful, shockingly uncomplicated and fast to make.

The secret to gougères — and cream puffs, profiteroles, éclairs, even churros — is pâte à choux (paht-ah-SHOO), a dough that’s endlessly useful, shockingly uncomplicated and fast to make.

Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here.

Posted in Baking

The Wheat Lowdown

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Those of us who cook believe that you have to cook to eat; baking bread is different. With so many relatively decent loaves readily available in stores, bread-baking is more of a hobby. The result, of course, will be eaten and enjoyed — and bakers know the rewards of blowing people’s minds with a good loaf: “You made that?” — but baking is not mandatory. (I say that having just paid four bucks for a “baguette” that would serve better as a kitchen sponge.)

As with any practice, baking gets better over time. But the odd thing about bread-making is that any epiphanies you have along the way are only temporarily gratifying. You always make progress, but then your standard rises, and in the end baking provides that oddly addictive combination of satisfaction and frustration.

Producing a great baguette is an art, but whole-grain bread is real sustenance, and I wanted good ones in my repertory. So over the past few years, I’ve challenged myself to make 100 percent whole-grain bread, and to make it delicious.

Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here.

Posted in Baking